Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale is a new game by a new studio, Zero Degrees Games. The game is a first-person puzzle-horror-ish hybrid, and takes place in the Free State, South Africa back in 2001, before cellphones became common enough to live everyone’s back pocket. Let’s head down to the farm and see what this review holds for us.
Among the Innocent features protagonist Peter York, who, after an argument with his girlfriend, rides out into the night on his motorcycle. He gets himself inadvertently stuck on a remote farm on the edge of a large lake, with a rockfall blocking his only exit back out to town. To add to this, his bike is all but destroyed in the rockfall, and Peter must figure out the secrets of the farm to get back to civilization. To add a layer of extra meaning to it all, the Stricken series is supposed to cover each of the five stage of grief and loss in the Kubler-Ross model in each game.
Because I played this game hot off the back of playing Resident Evil 7, I was naturally still a little on edge. Doors still left me a little nervous, but it turns out that this is not that sort of game, thankfully. There was one part where I’d heard a sharp crack that made me jump, but that was because I’d stood on the sofa and broken it. This game is far more in the vein of a creepy Myst-like, instead, and the emphasis is greatly on the puzzles and exploration. No jump scares, thankfully.
As I mentioned before, the game is set on a farm in the Free State, and while the game gives you hints and indications that this is the case, it doesn’t beat you over the head with the setting. The puzzles themselves are not brain-meltingly difficult, and all of them have a decent logical progression in play (unlike some games I could mention). Be sure to install the game’s updates before you play–some of the puzzles are a little obscure and only made clearer by some changes in the update. There are many items in the game that can be moved about, but serve very little purpose other than to be an initial red herring. I wasn’t, and still am not sure, about the application of these items, and am left wondering if it was an idea that was in the game’s engine before they put in the inventory system, or if it actually has a larger purpose that I’m unable to perceive. Thankfully, if you’re the kind of bumpkin who has no idea how to solve game puzzles by yourself, the game handily provides an online hint page. I’d honestly suggest you don’t use unless you’ve been wandering around for more than half an hour without an idea of what to do, because many of the game’s puzzles become fairly obvious when you start adding 2 and 2 together for yourself.
The game’s graphics, while not utterly astounding, are still fairly good and well modelled, and you can appreciate the amount of work that went into creating the farm and its puzzles. I liked, in particular, the iconic windmill water pump that you get to play with in one puzzle. I noticed the occasional glitch here and there, especially with some objects clipping through others, but this isn’t a big problem in a game like this, where picking up non-inventory goods has no effect on the puzzles at large. What I query is the plethora of things in the game that have little purpose beyond being flavour. Are they there for interest sake? Something just to colour the game and setting in? Something that will be relevant to a future game? One example is the number of books littered around the game. All you get is just a look at the cover and nothing from within. What purpose do they serve?
If you’d prefer not to be hit by the wand of the Spoiler Fairy, then skip this paragraph, because I feel the need to address a few plot-related elephants. Spoilers start here, but feel free to highlight the text to read it. Okay…so while the game starts off story-heavy, when you actually start playing it proper you’ll find that plot and story are fairly light. Because it’s just Peter and his ambition to get off the farm (and one short, long-distance talk), any story to be had is something you have to piece together for yourself and infer from the environment and the puzzle elements. And although things start looking a little sinister in places, it’s never really carried through with, and you’re left to wonder a heck of a lot of things about what actually happened on the farm back in the 80s. And then, for fun, in the last hour or so of the game, you get thrown a supernatural element that comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t seem to have anything further to do with the story at large. And then there’s the very confusing, blindsiding ending of the story. If this were a single game, I’d chalk it up to terrible, amateurish writing, but given how it’s supposed to be the first of a series of interconnected games, I’m willing to let it slide for now and see how it develops.
Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale is definitely intriguing, and while the environment gives you no definite answers about what happened, it’s fun to piece together your own little tales of the farm. I’m very curious about where the story is going, especially given the Kubler-Ross theme. It’s not immediately clear which of the five stages this first game is covering, but I’m going to assume that the games will take things in the accepted order (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). I’d have to play Among the Innocent again to understand how it’s pieced together in this model. As it stands, I’d say tentatively play it for the puzzles and atmosphere, because actually wandering around the farm is fun in its own way. And who doesn’t enjoy a nice creepy little story of an African farm?