Immersive storytelling meets sci-fi horror adventure in this space-based tale which sends you to the far reaches of the known universe to a deserted starship full of mysteries. Inspired by the likes of System Shock, Deus Ex and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is Spirits of Xanadu.
Developer: Allen Trivette & Lee Williams
Publisher: Night Dive Studios
Reviewed on: PC
Release Date: Out Now
Set in an alternate 1980s, at the farthest edge of the explored universe, the research ship Xanadu lies in orbit of an unknown planet. With communications down and no word from the crew in several months, a lone operative is sent in to revive the dead ship and bring her back to Earth.
As that solo explorer, your job is to find out what went wrong aboard the now-abandoned ship while working out how to restore her systems and return the ship home. Along the way, you’ll discover there’s more to this story than just a technical hitch and through audio logs, memos and hidden pages of a book, you’ll begin to unravel the mystery behind the missing crew.
If I’m completely honest, my expectations going into this game were low. Let’s face it, the sci-fi horror genre has seen it’s fair share of clangers over the last few years and I feared Spirits of Xanadu might follow that same path. How wrong I was.
The developers cite System Shock as one their main influences, but Xanadu screams of that games “spiritual successor” Bioshock in terms of quality immersive storytelling set in an eerie atmosphere, much like the corridors of Rapture, the dark and gloomy decks of this spaceship will get under your skin. Spirits of Xanadu boosts the game far above your run of the mill sci-fi horror indie games, it adds a level of depth and substance to the game that you wouldn’t expect.
Through the clues you find, you begin to unravel the stories of three of the crew members on their last days aboard the ship. You learn that each of them has their own tales to tell and they all intertwine into an in-depth and well thought out story which works perfectly with this genre.
The game-play itself is complimented considerably by this storytelling quality, hats off to the developers for making such an interactive environment, it really displays the passion for their craft. The environment has a plethora of things to explore, from simply being able to open any desk draw or access a computer terminal to a fully functional in-game arcade machine loaded with a zombie shooter, you can even smoke yourself to the point of death. The game is quite dark in it’s approach sometimes but the level of realism is superb.
The game offers full controller support using the standard FPS configuration, though if you’re more of a keyboard and mouse gamer you’ll get the same familiarity from the WASD control scheme. To aid you on your mission you’ll have find a couple of different weapons along the way, essentially a pistol, a shotgun and a machine gun, all very useful against the laser-wielding robots which now populate the ship.
As you work your way through the vessel you’ll find a number of interactive terminals which allow you to save your mission progress as well as display the ships CCTV system. The seamless transaction from aiming your firearm to using the terminal is impressive to say the least, there is no load time, no delay whatsoever, it is literally as it would be in the real-world, walk up and point and click. You’ll also come across a number of wall-mounted maps, very useful during the early stages but as you work your way through the story is very easy to learn the layout of the ship.
In a similar vein to many newer FPS games, searching for health is not an issue here, your life force is regenerative so fleeing from combat when everything starts turning red and you hear your own heartbeat is probably a good move for survival, anyone who has played a Call Of Duty game in the last decade will know what to expect from that.
As I mentioned earlier, the overall mission is to restore the ships systems and head for home. This concept is split into a number of different scenarios, each with their own unique puzzle to solve. One, for example, requires you to restart the engines, in order for you to do this you must reload a number of energy cells and locate hazards stuck in the machinery. It’s a reasonably simple task but one that could be made a lot easier if you fixed and reset the lighting system on-board. Most of the objectives work like this, while not necessarily having dependencies on each other for the most part there are advantages to doing things in a certain order.
The one and only place that this game is truly let down is in the visuals, many will find the style a little primitive and this can take away from the immersion of the experience. Please don’t let this put you off though because it’s only a minor setback for the most part. For the majority of the game you’re required to use a flashlight, which limits what you can see around you, it’s this gloomy atmosphere that keeps you hooked. The story and game-play far out-way the slight deficiencies in the graphical presentation helping Spirits of Xanadu prove that the polished Unreal engine isn’t always required to make a superb game.
As you progress through the game the audio compliments and enhances this eerie environment. Through weird electric noises coming from a distant robot to quiet creaks that give the impression that this ship has seen better days, it adds suspense to an already spooky atmosphere and helps create the perfect world for the story.
Spirits of Xanadu is simply a credit to it’s development team, it’s a must-have for anyone who enjoys a Ridley Scott sci-fi flick or has fond memories of playing System Shock. Despite the games overall presentation being a little primitive in places, the superb story, easy to master game-play and mass quantities of lore through exploration make this a game worthy of your time and money.
The game is available now on full release as a digital download from the steam store.
Now will someone please give Allen Trivette and Lee Williams the rights and budget for a new Bioshock sequel.