At first glance, Spirits of Xanadu isn’t quite the same as Good Morning, Commander‘s previous entry, King Of The Wood which built a functional allegory for the premise of Bladerunner. It was an insightful, simplified meditation on taking a synthetic life as an impactful moment for the player, as well as a stylistic bedrock for Spirits Of Xanadu to build upon.
As a spiritual successor, Xanadu may come across as a clumsy shooter, but this is an intentional, stylistic choice. The clunky combat incites a sense of dread, serving both to set it apart from the genre of walking simulator and to maintain a healthy level of tension.
The enemies are difficult, if not overwhelming at times. They aren’t distributed for the sake of gameplay, and often ignore bottlenecks. This leads to overwhelming or occasionally almost impossible situations, but the developers have given you plenty of tools to work around this. You can shut down the entire security network, sneak up behind bots to shut them down, or even find heavier tools for direct confrontation. It’s not the perfect flow of gameplay audiences have grown accustomed to in the modern era, but overall that’s a good thing because it forces you to think as opposed to charge.
Despite seemingly obvious correlations to Event Horizon or Sunshine, the developers have emphatically stated that they hadn’t come across either prior to the production. It’s a particularly cosmic coincidence that such tropes manifest even in the seemingly infinite potential of space. In no way do the appearances of these familiar tropes harm the story, rather serving as a comfort to the player as they are less out of place references and more byproducts of a well-established systematically built world.
The narrative of Xanadu also successfully executes on some particularly nuanced representation of diversity, more than just hinting at it along the way through character’s subplots. Another strength of the game is the incoherent writing of the doomed crew’s logs, helping to convey a sense of the characters losing what little grip they had on their own thoughts.
This is a great demonstration of what a small team and budget can achieve with regards to atmosphere and meaningful story. It’s a tragic space faring ghost tale that remains engaging the entire way through, and we look forward to a possible sit-down in the future with the developers behind the doomed ship.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice