The mission given to episode one of an episodic game is to leave the player wanting more. This single factor will determine the success or failure of the series, thus placing a lot of responsibility on the first chapter’s shoulders.
The Descendant is an episodic series by developer Gaming Corps, and it follows the concept that after humans destroyed the world through global warming and wars, a program was conceived to save 4,000 chosen people in underground facilities, called Arks. After centuries of being kept cryogenically preserved, the world is deemed safe to rebuild, and the humans are released to create a fresh start. However, Ark-01 has stayed mysteriously shut, trapping its 108 descendants inside.
After explaining the fate of the world, the player begins with protagonist Donnie, and the grumpy Senator Randolph, whose mission is to rescue the trapped survivors of Ark-01. The other part of the game is set just after the Arks are initially locked down.
Protagonist Mia, and physician Silas, are the Janitors of Ark-01, tasked with keeping all systems running smoothly. By crossing the timelines of the characters, the player is entrusted with piecing together the mystery of what happened.
To encourage player agency, every action and dialogue choice will affect the Ark and its frozen inhabitants, as well as the immediate reactions of those surrounding the protagonists. There is certainly a lot of intrigue within the concept, which feels like it was inspired from the Vaults in the Fallout franchise.
Episode One is very short and will likely take you under an hour to play through. Hopefully the following episodes will be a lot longer because as it is, little happens in episode one, with the focus being mostly on introducing the characters, their jobs and the beginnings of serious problems for all involved. The ending of both protagonists’ sections stop on the brink of everything going wrong, so fingers crossed that more time will be given in episode two, and that The Descendant will then get properly stuck into the action.
The gameplay is divided into two sections; cutscenes where the player may be given the odd dialogue choice or quick time event, and exploration moments where the player controls one of the main characters and solves puzzles with point-and-click controls.
The cutscenes are relatively self-explanatory. Characters talk to each other and further the plot, with the odd inclusion of the player. On the rare occasion that the player gets given a dialogue choice, it is set out in a Telltale Games format where you have a time limit to answer. Choices can affect the outcome of events and how the other characters behave towards the protagonists – although the results of most of these are not obvious within this first episode.
It’s a shame that The Descendant doesn’t take inspiration from Telltale’s fantastic characters. Despite spending the whole time with only four people, they’re all cardboard cut-outs, only having the ability to react to situations in an obvious way.
A few facts and statements are made about, or by, the protagonists, but it’s not even close to simulating fleshed out characters that the player can actually care about. Extra personality has been attempted through the use of full English voice acting, and admittedly, the actors do add to the tension and desperation of the situation and, for the most part, deliver their lines well. Some of the spoken dialogue is a little stiff, but since the script hasn’t been fantastically written, it’s no surprise that characters can end up sounding as stereotypical as their dialogue.
Visually, the character designs have been firmly placed in the uncanny valley. They work for the tone of the game, however, and are never off-putting, other than an amusing clipping hair glitch and some wonky animations.
The character controls and puzzle solving are probably The Descendant’s weakest element. The game utilizes basic point-and-click gameplay where the player must use the left mouse button to direct where the character walks, then wait as the protagonists ambles towards that direction. The slow pacing can be really jarring, particularly when one of the other characters is yelling at them to hurry with a job. Adding to the frustration is the awkward camera, which will suddenly jump to a different viewpoint during exploration of an area.
While exploring, objects that can be examined will have a circle with a wrench symbol inside, as well as a slight shine, so it tends to be obvious where to look next. Weirdly, objects cannot be looked at until they’re necessary, such as not being able to inspect a toolbox until the player has first viewed the item that needs fixing. This can lead to a bit of annoyance in regards things suddenly being important that earlier couldn’t be focused on. The mechanic also takes some of the skill out of the puzzle solving, as things cannot be picked up unless they are specifically useful within the moment.
While some puzzles are simply about exploring and picking up objects, others involve fixing consoles. The player will then stay on the specific panel screen until the puzzle has been solved. Most of these are actually very easy, once you’ve worked out what you are required to do. The vague instructions can waste valuable time, however, since speed equals keeping people in the Ark alive.
It should also be noted that there is very little real puzzle solving involved here. It’s frustrating to fumble over a time limit, only to discover that the simple task can actually be solved in a matter of seconds.
The game is clearly focused more on the story, with some casual puzzles thrown in only to increase player engagement. That being the case, it is unsurprising that the highlight of The Descendant: Episode One is its atmosphere. The choice to switch between characters at impactful moments gives a cinematic experience, staying true to the episodic format, and the intrigue of wanting to know what will happen next is then built upon by the remote location.
The large empty corridors, the sounds of dripping pipes and quiet ominous music all combine with the isolated situation to fill the environment with charged tension. The player is aware that when problems occur they must solve them quickly and efficiently in order to keep the frozen humans alive, giving high stakes to failure. While the characters and dialogue unfortunately stop the player from really caring about the protagonists or their mission, the atmosphere will keep them engaged and interested in the story.
Those looking for a new episodic title, or mystery to solve, are going to find themselves satisfyingly intrigued by what The Descendant has to offer, so far. The game certainly works hard at creating an immersive atmosphere that will suck the players in, despite a lack of depth in the characters. However, if you’re looking for difficult puzzles, or a fun point-and-click adventure, you may be disappointed in the problem solving, slow controls and basic linear exploration. Here’s hoping that the negatives are improved upon in future episodes, and that the positives can continue to develop.
This review is based off a PC copy of the game, which we were provided with.
Despite some basic puzzles, and uninspiring characters, episode one of The Descendant is abundant in atmosphere. The title provides players with an engaging story that will leave them curious to know what happens next.