2016 has been a busy year in the video gaming industry, with a host of big budget titles having launched in virtually non stop succession since January. Indeed, that’s a theme that seems set to continue, and if you’re a hardcore gamer then you’ll no doubt have your calendar marked with the release dates of the season’s most tantalizing looking titles. But with all the hype and anticipation for these massive AAA games, it’s easy to forget about the host of promising smaller indie games sandwiched in between.
Here at WGTC we’re big fans of indie studios for their creativity and grass roots approach to video game development. With ever more frequency, indie developers are proving that video games don’t always need multi million dollar budgets and ultra high end graphics to make a big impact on the industry. Indeed, we’re especially fond of developers that seek to innovate through the breaking of typical gaming conventions, and we’re happy to share with you one such up and coming title that looks set to embody that principle.
You probably won’t have heard of small Austrian developer Homegrown Games, but their soon to debut Father’s Island is a perfect example of the sort of novelty we love to see to from indie studios. Father’s Island is a visual novel, except it’s not. This hybrid game is as much a puzzle solving adventure title as it is a narrative driven gameplay experience. Think Firewatch mixed with a game like 3/4s Home; interactive 3D environments interspersed with graphic novel style cut scenes that advance the games plot.
It’s a unique premise that is perhaps best compared to title like Dangonronpa, though Father’s Island features far more emphasis on puzzle solving and exploration. Indeed, despite the immense popularity of visual novels in Asia, we simply don’t see many developed from western studios, and therefore a title that is part graphic novel, part walking simulator has certainly got our attention.
Father’s Island’s main protagonist, John Richards, has had it pretty rough. Quite apart from having no recollection of his early childhood or his birth parents, he’s been framed for a vicious crime he never committed. Richards’ is a quiet and rather introverted personality, but never the less he’s spent 5 years in prison answering for armed robbery and assault. Sadly for him, his secluded life didn’t provide much in the way of an alibi, and in the face of overwhelming evidence, he’s lost half a decade behind bars.
Now it’s time to search for answers on a foreboding deserted island that his father used to frequent when he was a child. As Richards explores the mysterious island, he begins to uncover details that provide clues to the conspiracy that led to his false imprisonment. Buried in the island’s interior, Richards realizes his unfamiliar surroundings may be far more connected with his own past than he could ever know.
Father’s Island is a crime thriller visual novel by distinction, but its gameplay experience also centers around exploration and puzzle solving amid its open world environment. Built with a modified version of the GameGuru engine, the game’s aesthetic features a lush crimson and brownish palette that rather suitably compliments the dark and eerie island setting. Indeed, the whole island is a wonderfully ambient environment, and from what we’ve played so far, the developers have done a superb job in creating a premise that encourages exploration and discovery. This is truly a game in which its environment invokes as much intrigue as its narrative.
The puzzle gameplay is fairly simple by design, mostly revolving around finding various object to unlock obstructed pathways; either in the form of locked doors or hidden areas. Yet, it’s the manner in which the developers have interwoven the game’s narrative into the discovery of these required objects that is particularly engaging. The trick with an adventure game is to encourage exploration, to make players want to interact with the game’s environment, and that’s exactly what the team at Homegrown Games have achieved here. Father’s Island necessitates you to observe, listen and revise clues carefully to advance through its sandbox, but in the time we had with the game this never felt tedious or uninspired.
Although Father’s Island has many characteristics you might find in an adventure title, at its core the game is also very much narrative driven visual novel. Every puzzle or explorative aspect within the game is in place to facilitate the advancement of the plot. Father’s Island features 4 different endings and depending on both player choice and the order in which certain puzzles and hidden areas are interacted with, different outcomes will occur. In fact, there’s even a surprise outcome separate to its four different endings. We won’t risk spoiling anything more, but suffice to say the game’s psychological horror theme is particularly embodied in one such occurrence.
Players can expect voiceover narration throughout, both during moment to moment gameplay within the open world, and during its graphic novel-like cutscenes. Indeed, the narration by the game’s main protagonist is the catalyst through which much of the plot unfolds. Players with a ear for detail might recognize the gruff voice of John J. Dick from the classic shooter Serious Sam; his rugged tones quite appropriately depict Richards’ hard knock life. The game’s other voice acting was actually done by Homegrown Games; own CEO Ivan Etrlov. Ertlov plays the role of Richards’ father, and he also features in the game during FMV sequences as well.
Father’s Island might not boast the most cutting edge aesthetic, the biggest budget, or the most complicated game design, but it’s actually this lack of support that’s contributed to its uniqueness. When you don’t have the luxuries of a multi-million dollar studio then you’re forced to get creative with your game design, and this is a theme we see time and time again across indie gaming.
We’re absolutely impressed with what we’ve seen so far from Father’s Island, and we adore the game’s adventure/visual novel hybrid premise. Especially if you’re a fan of adventure games and visual novels, this is a title that’s worth keeping an eye open for later this month when it launches June 24th on Steam for $4.99.