Riga, Jul 2017
Gordon vs E-corp has a distinctive name and an unusual setting. In a future dystopia, humanity needs to escape from a dying world to a distant planet; and the man who has invented a fuel source that could allow us to reach it has been kidnapped by a mega-corporation afraid of losing its energy monopoly. Your task is to find the formula hidden in his apartment and publish it to the world.
Which sounds a lot like a standard laboratory style plot given a futuristic veneer. But this is in no way a standard game, as was made clear by the opening sequence – the details of which I shan’t reveal, but is among the strongest starts to any game I’ve played ever.
Very few of the games I played in Riga made much use of padlock code puzzles. Gordon actually had relatively many of these, though still few enough to count on the fingers on one hand. However, they were well integrated into the story, at least if you don’t find it implausible that padlocks are still being used three hundred years in the future. And they were combined with all kinds of other puzzle ideas, very low tech through to very high tech, including one that was startlingly unusual and original.
But what really made this game was the world-building. Other sci-fi games might recreate a space station or spaceship command room with rows of blinking lights and silver panels. Gordon takes a different tack and creates the 23rd century version of a mundane residential area. The website promo images might leave you expecting something quite industrial-looking, but that’s misleading. It combines futuristic with day to day, and the result is outstandingly original and memorable. The game includes a mechanism for retrieving further information about particular items, and this is a source of some lovely easter eggs that the designers seem to have included for the sheer fun of it.
Frustratingly, it was let down by a few elements. One was something that was annoyingly difficult to control, though there was a manual fallback that both our teams resorted to. Another was the standard of spoken English used in a couple of places: it seemed a lot like it had been translated with Google Translate and then read from a script by someone who didn’t actually know English. The result could mostly be followed, though we had to repeat each message two or three times and needed a hint to understand the last one. One hidden compartment got stuck instead of falling open, leaving us thinking the mechanism had broken until the operator told us to pull on it harder. And finally, the game conclusion was an anti-climax. I’d have noticed that less had the game start not been so good; as it was, the beginning set a bar that the end couldn’t match up to. A game that’s so impressive in other ways really deserved a thrilling, spectacular finish, and that didn’t happen.
Even so, I loved it. It was as immersive as a game can be without using live actors, with a superbly original design constructed with effort that went well beyond what was purely necessary for the game. Without the handful of problems and with a stronger finish it would be exquisitely good, among my very favourite games; as it was it’s still one to make sure you try if you’re ever near Riga.