Offering a personalised experience that explores the concept of death, Waking is a third-person title out now on Steam.
Waking put me on edge from the outset, and for multiple reasons. The first was will my PC be up to this as I haven’t upgraded for years, though it was pretty decent at the time. Then I thought ‘this is my first review for this site’, despite literally doing 100s of reviews on Vulgar Knight and elsewhere – and for other industries.
But the real one that bothered me was to be honest with the game.
The concept of the game is to ensure that it is a personal experience, and to do that; you have to be open and honest. Already an honest person, that wasn’t the problem, it was more to do with privacy. While the game claims not to share your details – not that it matters so much, I didn’t feel comfortable and usually quick to put in an alias.
However, that wasn’t the case, and I tried to be open. It was pretty amusing to see my avatar as the equivalent of my real-life height – a Hobbit.
A Waking Review
When it comes to being open, the game will ask you to make choices and select themes that relate to you, or concepts that you hold dear. Waking even goes as far as say that this game might not be for you if you suffer from depression or get anxious.
The latter made me anxious.
After getting past the overthinking of the game, I was soon able to enjoy it, but not without issues. The first was not knowing where to go. Walking into this chamber of sorts, I could only see one exit, which was the way I came in.
Going round in circles and jumping to my assumed death, I headed back and retraced my steps to find a little nook to dive into. That’s when you get introduced to your Jedi-like powers of telekinesis, and also my second hurdle with the game during a training session.
The game got stuck in a spin – literally, as the camera kept turning and turning that it made me feel disorientated. Not knowing whether it was the game or not, I opted out and took a breather (it wasn’t the controller or anything control related).
Visually, it’s very dark – not in concept, but just poorly lit as you work your way through a sort of limbo. You see, the game is about you, yes, you – as you lie in a coma. The God of sleep (a good friend of mine), Somnus encourages you to resist the temptation to return to your body, and instead go on a Dark Souls-like quest while attempting to play out like a zen-like experience.
It’s like walking around with your eyes closed – there has to be some sort of compromise, as the two concepts don’t go hand-in-hand.
Still, dreams are subjective, and if my input was going to lead me to an open-ended experience – why the hell not? I seem to recall so many people slating Death Stranding when it came out, but I embraced the ambiguity and absurdness of it all. It doesn’t always have to make sense (and you can always be distracted with some fun gameplay).
Living The Dream
Waking doesn’t really have an ace up its sleeve to entertain when your interest starts to wane; however, the options for personalising the experience opens the game up a bit more – especially when you get assistance from a pet from your past. If you’re not an animal lover, perhaps the sentiment is wasted, but I liked the cloudiness that the game projected.
But… while I enjoyed the concepts, the gameplay side of things was a bit more nightmare than dream-like.
Assuming the spinning incident was a one-off (it was), when I got into the combat side of things, it was monotonous and in some cases, would have preferred quite a few of the scenes were cut from the game to get things moving. It gets a bit sluggish.
The sound design was pretty good, and the ethereal third-parties that you encounter have a decent enough presence, that I was able to take it all in slowly. I wasn’t a fan of the design of the character.
While I get that it’s a personalised experience and you can’t have umpteen different designs (excluding the gender, height and weight you opt for at the beginning), the hooded appearance was a bit of a letdown.
As you’re caught between life and death, your avatar could be a bit more creative, like an apparition, or something a little bit more extravagant, but, in fear of contradicting myself – neutral.
The combat moves and jumping reminded me a little of Shadowman, back on the Sega Dreamcast. While I loved the game at the time – notably the concept once again, the platforming side and combat was a little weak, as it is in Waking.
I seldom look at other reviews before I put my own thoughts down as I don’t want to be persuaded or convinced to think the same way as everyone else – though it does seem that way when giving similar scores.
That said, I seldom mark a game down – especially for a one-person development team, unless it’s that lacklustre that it doesn’t deserve the time of day. While you get kudos for seeing a game through from an idea on a napkin through to a release date, that doesn’t also guarantee a good score.
From my perspective, the concept is excellent. Encouraging players to input ideals that they hold dear is a way to lure them in and engage them for a more personalised experience. However, it falls a bit flat in application. The ideas presented are the selling points in my eyes, only let down by a run-of-the-mill third-person action title. It’s definitely not a Dark Souls title, but you can see that the benchmark title inspired some aspects.
What it does well in concept, Waking doesn't translate as well when it comes to the action. It slightly confuses with its meditative approach when you're battling your demons in the form of seemingly unbeatable bosses.
- Unique experience per person.
- Engaging concept.
- The unexplained adds more depth.
- Combat is a little underwhelming.
- The meditative side confuses with all the fighting.
- Even if you adjust your set, Waking is quite poorly lit.