It’s rare that a game comes along these days that really creeps me out. With such things as the Resident Evil series, Dead Space, Silent Hill, and all the other games that are in the horror or survival horror genre, I sometimes get the feeling that I’ve been de-sensitized to anything really scary or creepy.
Sure, a game can surprise me, startle me with loud sound effects or well-timed attacks by slavering zombies or disgusting aliens, but it’s unusual to find a game that actually scares me in any way, anymore. That’s why Keys Of A Gamespace was such a nice, refreshing change and challenge.
Produced entirely with the Adventure Game Studio (also featured on FreewareGenius.com), and the brainchild of ex-Ubi Soft guru Sebastien Genvo, Keys Of A Gamespace (KOAG) is tough to define or pigeon-hole as a specific genre, but it definitely fits into the category of a point and click adventure.
This particular style of game has become somewhat ‘retro’ for lack of a better term. These games were very popular back in the early days of PC gaming, and Sierra made a great line-up of them with the word “Quest” being their signal to the player that the game was going to involve a lot of exploration. Space Quest, King’s Quest, Police Quest, all of these games provided me with tons of entertainment back in my mis-spent youth, but as the gaming industry moved on, so did I. Recently, however, there’s been a resurgence and a movement by a select group of gamers to bring these types of games back into the limelight of PC gaming. With the question of PC gaming’s health in the balance (some say PC gaming is dead, including the folks at Id Software!), any kind of fresh life breathed into the available world of PC games is a welcome one, from my own point of view. Enter: Keys Of A Gamespace.
Keys Of A Gamespace is advertised as ‘an expressive game’. What does that mean? Well, according to the website: “An expressive game allows you to dive into someone else’s life in order to explore his or her psychological / cultural / social problems. You can experience his or her ethical / moral dilemmas and face the consequences that occur of such situations.”
The game begins fairly simply, as any good game should, and builds a monument of complex thoughts and introspection throughout. The opening scene is prefaced by the following paragraph:
“According to psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, a game is in an intermediate space between the real and the imaginary. It is where we can try to face our fears, our anxieties and our problems, in order to solve them without having to suffer. For this reason, game playing is essential to the construction of the identity of the individual. Nevertheless, one must still be able to find where lies the key to his or her problems within this gamespace.”
Not your typical opening for a point and click adventure game, right? I pondered that paragraph for quite some time before moving on, so taken aback was I at the depth of it’s statement in what I thought was going to be a simple game that might offer an occasional smile or two. In the end, I decided that the enigmatic statement is meant to imply that life itself can be treated as a game in many aspects and that this game might help me explore some of them. Eagerly, I pressed the mouse button to move on and was presented with what appeared to be a hand drawn scene of a woman confronting her significant other (possibly her husband) about the fact that he spends no time with her and spends all of it on the computer. An ultimatum is given and she storms out, and the game begins.
Now, this might not sound terribly creepy or weird from the description given here, but two things contributed to a growing case of the heebie jeebies in this opening scene. First, the background music that plays while the scene unfolds is decidedly ominous and dark in it’s overtones. Long, deep notes and slow cadence lend that air of ‘something bad may happen at any moment’ and does it quite well. The music is quite engaging throughout the entire game and I feel like it was very professionally done, without the 8-bit beeps and boops that my memory insists are requisites for this kind of point and click adventure. Secondly, and it took me a few moments to realize this, the characters of the man and the woman have no faces! It’s subtle, you don’t notice it right at first, but your subconscious picks up on it and combines it with the music to present an immediate ‘twilight zone gone to hell’ feeling from the very start. I was hooked.
I continued to plunge into the game, being delighted and creeped out at every twist and turn of the plot. The interface for KOAG is quite simple and user-friendly. Right clicking your mouse changes the control icon from an eye to examine things, a hand to interact with them, a word bubble to speak with other characters in the game, and footprints to move your character. Your objective, ostensibly, is to save your relationship with the woman who just stalked out of the house, saying that she is sleeping at her parents’ house tonight. This sounds like it would be a fairly simple and straight-forward objective, but like everything else in KOAG it’s deceptive in it’s simplicity and there are much deeper meanings and plot threads woven throughout. Once you leave the room you start in, then things get really weird. You’re then faced with a glaringly white screen that offers a number of doors to go through, each with a year printed on them. Each door, you discover, leads to a part of the past, where you’ll need to explore and interact to get to the next plot point. There’s an air of creepy strangeness pervading the entire game, from the initial menu screen that depicts a human face made of puzzle pieces that are made of other faces, to the lack of faces on the characters and the ominous music as well. Even the dialogues have a distinct Hitchcock feel to them, reminding me of many late night episodes of my favorite creepy shows. Not scary, exactly, just creepy and odd, as if the whole thing was at right angles from the rest of the universe.
I won’t post any spoilers here, but as I progressed through the game, I found myself wondering at times why I was still playing it. The graphics are not today’s standard. Instead, they are beautifully rendered, 2D hand-drawn cell animations. The sound is professional but again, not today’s common denominator. No explosions that shake my windows, no voice over work by people who used to be on Star Trek, or anything. The interface is clean and uncluttered, so it does have the immersion effect of not distracting you with tons of HUD info to look at. In the end, I concluded, it was the story and the gameplay itself that kept me interested, as very few games have been able to do in my life. Again, I won’t post spoilers here, but I will suggest that you play the game all the way through in one sitting if possible. Also, I found that playing it in a quiet, dark room added to the experience in a very positive way. Immersion is a big deal for any game, drawing the player into the game world to explore the fictions the creators have offered and KOAG does quite a neat job in that area. It’s pretty short, but it’s very rewarding if you enjoy games that allow you to think and explore new realms of your own psyche. Each bit of the story, as it unfolds, brings to mind episodes of my own life and allows me to reflect on them and what impact they had on the man I eventually became. As you lead/follow Sebastien (the main character, not the author) through the game, you’ may find you are leaning a lot about yourself at the same time.
Sebastien Genvo has really put together a great team of programmers and developers for this project. He is an Associate Professor at the Center for research on mediation, IUT Thioville – Yutz, (Paul Verlaine University – Metz). He has published several books in French about video games as an expressive medium and has been a game designer at Ubi Soft in 2001/2002. All of this shines through in the game as it unfolds an experience that is not only entertaining, and thought-provoking, but is also challenging and a very subtle social commentary. This kind of daring is often attempted but rarely attained, but is thankfully becoming more common in the freeware gaming community.
So, add the pros together. This game is very entertaining, makes you think, and is totally free. That equals a winner in my book and I hope you’ll give it a try and tell your friends about it. The ending of this game was very satisfying and that’s not something that can be said for every game, or even most games. It’s a rare gem in the world of retro gaming and I can honestly say I hope we see more games like it in the future. Take all of this and add to it the fact that the game was originally made in French and then translated/ported to English and it becomes and impressive accomplishment. Until next time, my friends!
Tested on: Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium, Acer Aspire 5742Z
Requirements: I couldn’t find any particular requirements posted on the website, but the game is so simple you should be able to run it on pretty much any Windows OS. No notes are available as to whether it works on other platforms.
Download it here.