Online, Oct 2020
Stalker is not an escape game. I don’t know exactly what term best describes this experience; “live video game”, or perhaps “carnival of craziness”. If you played Project Avatar’s original game and thought that was wacky, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
(An important disclaimer: Stalker seems to have gone through a round or two of significant revisions with the planned release date delayed to make changes; the version I played should be representative of the final version, but there was still some fine-tuning happening. In particular, there was a time penalty mechanism which may – or may not – be replaced with a points penalty instead.)
The first Project Avatar game was notable for the way it felt like a computer game, and incorporated brute force, a huge game area and an energy bar system. Stalker also feels like a live computer game, but a slightly different style of computer game, and many of those mechanics are gone. There’s no brute force system, though the avatar continues to treat his surroundings with an amusing lack of respect; and I think the game area was if anything a little smaller.
Unchanged is the game’s focus on exploring a large, cluttered and somewhat dark environment. Objects of interest are much better marked, though rather interchangeable – most of the time you find ‘a red object’ or ‘a blue object’ not an actual piece of equipment. Those tie into the game’s crafting system – again, a concept straight from a computer game, where you combine particular combinations of resource items to trade up for more useful items.
Having not really paid enough attention in the briefing, I didn’t have a proper grasp of how the game worked until almost the end; fortunately my team mates did. But in essence you’re exploring, searching, gathering resources and trading them for items worth points. The aim is to maximise your points before the time runs out (not forgetting to run to the exit to finish). There were also a luck-based elements that could give us a trove of resource items, or inflict a penalty.
And there are also puzzles, with a particular type of resource available only by solving puzzles. This made Stalker more puzzle driven than the first Project Avatar game – but although there are quite a lot of puzzles, most of them are fairly straightforward.
All of which may not make Stalker sound all that appealing for escape enthusiasts. And depending on your tastes, it may not be. The appeal of the game is not primarily in the puzzle solving or the resource gathering – it’s in the madcap nuttiness of the whole experience. This is a game that combines a badass dimension-travelling assassin figure with anthropomorphic animals, magic instruments, and the kind of weirdness you’d expect from the trippier kind of music video. It transitions smoothly from live video feed to pre-recorded segments and back again, each time with a new surprise, and half the fun of the game is in waiting to see what on earth it’s going to do next.
As before, our avatar was silent but nonetheless both expressive and entertaining with just his hand movements. The company’s also managed to make welcome improvements to their technology – where before the video lagged and there was a distinct delay in the avatar responding to our instructions, this time round it was far smoother.
With a points-based structure it’s a frantic scramble against time, where you probably won’t see and solve everything. Sometimes the sense of having missed out on a segment can spoil a game’s fun; here I was less invested in being successful and more inclined to just enjoy the ride. Again, how well that works for you will depend a great deal on how much Stalker’s surreal randomness amuses you. Even more than Project Avatar’s first game, you might love or hate Stalker – either way it’ll definitely be a memorable experience.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.