Hailing from the likes of Uplink, Darwinia and most recently Prison Architect, Introversion are best known for their romps in the realm of strategy and management; something that makes this haunting, stylised and intensely atmospheric creation all the more conspicuous. A more familiar Introversion venture was its other prototype, Wrong Wire, which seemed to see more action at Rezzed. But curious gamer as I am, it was Scanner that lured me in and even looking back on it now, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it.
Developer: Introversion Software
Publisher: Introversion Software
Previewed on: PC
Also Available On: Unknown
Release Date: Unknown
Perhaps the strongest reason for this is that Scanner Sombre isn’t technically a game yet. It’s a prototype – a taste of ideas, concepts and artworks that give an idea of what’s to come, and all of them feel decidedly fresh compared to more traditional Introversion fare.
Scanner Sombre has you wandering the numerous tangles of a dark cave, using only a thermal scanner to see your way around. You point the scanner in the direction you want to illuminate, and are greeted with a vibrant, granular light show detailing your next path. The tool itself is operated using the mouse, with use of the scroll wheel reserved for changing your scanning range to create more narrow beams of light, or wider to cover larger stretches.
The big reveals hit the hardest. After a good old spray of the thermoscanner, I’d find myself suddenly atop rickety bridges or vaulting staircases, as the route I’d taken lay painted behind me in navy blue coils. Whilst there are a very few environment issues that interrupt otherwise smooth character movement, Scanner Sombre proffers a world that is hauntingly beautiful – potentially more so on VR.
I can’t claim Scanner is a hugely open game, supporting a number of player choices, but the choice is still there- and its simplicity is admirable. By scrolling the wheel, you can make your time in this maze as elusive and mysterious or as insightful and lucid as you like, and as Scanner would be seeing some major changes between now and release, it’s an early concept that opens up the game for creating unique player experiences. Possibly multiple endings based on what you did or didn’t see, should Introversion take a more narrative-driven route later down the line.
And there’s certainly some sort of narrative at play here, however vague it may seem right now. As I sheepishly traipsed the few galleries available in the prototype, I’d be met every now and then by a strange figure. A still interesting, still beautiful projection made by the sprawling lights of the scanner, these fleeting encounters were just enough to imply that all wasn’t as it seemed. I could use the scanner to see, but I couldn’t use it to see all, and it was at that point that Scanner Sombre hinted at its potential to become rather quite unsettling.
It’s true that I was taken aback at Scanner’s haunting art style, as well as its potential for complexity, but much of the game’s detail remains aesthetic for now. Given its status as a prototype, however, Scanner Sombre feels promising indeed. Given that exploration seems to be Introversion’s main focus here, it’s quite possible that between now and its undisclosed release date, these atmospheric labyrinths could be so much more intricate, and hide so many more secrets.