When is a game not a game?
I have to say, The Last Scape was a tricky title to review. Because as much as I hate the use of the word “experience” for video games, that’s basically what The Last Scape is, an experience. I feel like if you go into this expecting a traditional game, you might leave disappointed.
This is a first person….flying game? You could even call it “floating camera – the game” because at times, it feels that way while you’re grappling with the controls. Once you adjust the controls to your liking, or just get used to it, you start to get that sense of flying that the game obviously wants you to feel and at times it actually captures it really well. Particularly when flying through clouds.
An ambitious indie
Make no mistake, when you start The Last Scape, you instantly know you’re playing an indie game. I don’t say that in a way to denigrate it because once you get into the game proper, it’s ambition is clear. Much like Hellblade, the game immediately recommends you put on headphones and I have to agree with that sentiment. I found the game to be an aural treat. From the atmospheric sounds through to the score, I really enjoyed the audio on offer here.
But where the ambition really shows is in the visuals. This game is the first to use LIDAR laser scanning to produce it’s visuals and it makes for an interesting result. While the game is referred to as open world, I’d personally call it an open landscape and it’s quite beautiful when you follow the games intended play style. Which as I mentioned earlier, is flying over the landscape – which it turns out, is an actual LIDAR scan of an area of Spain near the border of France. At moments it can be breathtaking to look at and both the draw distance and sense of scale is simply insane at times. With more time using this kind of tech and better hardware to run it on (like Series X?) I can see this technique producing something incredible.
Where the seams really show is when you happen to fly too close to the ground, which one achievement almost forces you to do. The current Achilles heel of the LIDAR tech within the video game space is close ups. It almost looks voxel like on closer inspection and at times, I sort of flew through the geometry. There’s also the literal seem where the main map meets its edges. But for me, this really didn’t detract from the sheer scope and ambition on display here.
A lasting memory
But what do you really do in this game? Well….you fly. Unfortunately I couldn’t really get a very clear grasp on the story. From what I could gather, you’re collecting your memories. Which are represented as rings spread throughout the landscape and you need to fly through them to collect them. At times it doesn’t register you’ve gone through a ring if you fly through at an angle and it’s also not clear whether the rings should be flown through in a certain order or not. There are 3 types of rings. The more ornamental “gate” like rings that contain an opening animation, just regular rings with a very subtle fire type effect over them and then a white “tri-ring” which come in a sequence that require you fly through them in order and only activate sometimes when flying through the main ornamental rings. It was hard to determine exactly but that’s how I interpreted it.
Upon collecting all the rings in the game, you’re allowed to fly around for a little while just chilling before you’re transported to the “Farewell” chapter where you, yep….you guessed it, fly some more. But this time it’s pure relaxation. No ring collection, just flying over a rather beautiful open ocean before the game eventually bids you farewell and the credits roll. If that sounded like a short game, it is. The game doesn’t take long to “complete” insomuch as the collection of rings. There’s even an achievement for beating the game in 9 minutes and 15 seconds. So yeah, it’s short. But I feel like this game wasn’t designed to just…beat. I feel like it’s ultimately a game to relax with. To just try and lose yourself flying over the hills of Spain and there’s a real tranquility to it that allows that to happen. The frustration can come when you try to play this as a traditional game that needs to be beaten.
This game is divisive, there’s no doubting that and I can completely understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy it or wouldn’t quite get it. But if you approach it with measured expectations and treat it as more of an experience as opposed to a game, there’s a really relaxing use of your time to be had. This is a truly ambitious indie game and I can completely see the LIDAR technology being refined and used in future games. As this game is also confirmed to be part of the Smart Delivery program for Series X, it’s possible we could see some of that refinement as soon as later this year.
While this isn’t for everyone, it’s worth checking out even to take in the views that the LIDAR tech provides. As the resident achievement hunter of XboxEra, the easy-ish 1000GS and low price entry point also helps.