After a grueling year like 2020, it’s no wonder that a sci-fi game with horror movie vibes was quietly launched with the tagline “Quarantined. No memories. No way out.”.
Vessels is the first title coming out of the Local Space Survey Corps studio and has just won the “Best Student Game” award this week at the Independent Games Festival. Having recently played their game during the past weekend, I was really happy to see this true labour of love being recognized by the industry.
In Vessels, you begin as someone quarantined inside the airlock. You have no recollection of how you got there and even who you are. You might have felt truly alone if not for a mysterious Voice inside your head pervading through your every thought and action. It will keep you company, making you question how far you are willing to go and where it ends and you begin.
It’s with this Voice that Vessels delivers one great narrative twist in one well-known sci-fi trope. The player is not the suspicious crew, afraid of what is coming their way and constantly looking over their shoulder. The player is, in the words of the infamous Walter White, “the one who knocks”. You will do what you need to do to get out of that airlock even if that means taking control of others. The game’s main mechanic is the ability to possess others and control them to your will in your quest for freedom.
But make no mistake: this is a game with a deep narrative focus and the possession mechanic’s main goal is to be able to better manipulate others. The player is expected to sow paranoia within the ship by exploiting the crew member’s weaknesses. The weaving of this tale of intrigue is aided by the exploration of the ship, piecing together clues about these individuals and unraveling their own personal identities.
And that is the keyword in this game: identity. This space mystery plays deeply with the concept of identity and the battle for the self, with the aid of the ever-present Voice teasing us and playing with our own character’s weaknesses and motivations. This ongoing dialogue is one of the game’s strong suits, which is no small feat in a title with veritably engrossing writing that makes you want to play it in one sitting.
This character-driven story can be played in around 2-3 hours and it will be a great game for those who enjoy narrative adventures with creepy atmospheres and sci-fi movies where paranoia is a key element.