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GDC 2017 Preview | Desolus

by on February 28, 2017
 

A game where you manipulate a miniature black hole sounds like a title bathed in combat and explosions. Desolus, however, is far from that: you use the black hole to manipulate energy between dimensions, opening gates to new stages. Moving between light and dark dimensions, each puzzle takes you through a world that feels both familiar and foreign. By summoning energy from distant reservoirs, redirecting power to various portals, and traveling between worlds, you’ll challenge the mind while exploring a haunting landscape. I played the game while checking out The MIX during GDC 2017, and I liked what I saw.

Creator Mark Mayers describes Desolus as “a cross between Portal and Metroid Prime 2.” Given his background as a computer scientist and work at MIT as a neural network developer and AI researcher though, there’s more to the game than gained at first glance. The world feels ethereal and dream-like, pushing players to learn through exploration. Puzzles combine energy manipulation with exploration, encouraging appreciation of the gorgeous visuals.

Though the puzzles take center stage, it’s hard to not want to simply wander around the levels and take in the beauty. That feeling is compounded by the soundtrack, a piano score composed by popular online pianist Kyle Landry. Known for his Twitch and YouTube performances, his music wraps the environmental package together exceptionally well.

As much as I enjoyed the experience of wandering around in the worlds of Desolus, I didn’t feel like I left the demo with a solid understanding of its mechanics. Walking between rifts, I shot dimensional energy into what looked like large space goblets, and redirected power from energy pyramids…I just wasn’t sure why. I vaguely understood what items needed manipulation and changed their states until I saw the glittering exit door open, but I didn’t feel mastery. If Mayers hadn’t been present to help me through the first complex puzzle, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to figure it out. I hope that if I sat down with the game in a calmer, more isolated setting, it would make more sense to me, but I left wanting to go through it all again.

Overall, Desolus provided a calm, almost meditative experience with stunning visuals and sound, even if I left it feeling confused. Though it doesn’t have a concrete release date, Mayers targeted 2018 for release. It’s a big project for a solo developer, but I’m looking forward to seeing more.

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