Scanning the current television zeitgeist you’ll find that a recurring theme in the most popular shows right now, across all genres, in friendship. Popular Netflix sci-fi series, Stranger Things is a show about a group of boys trying to save their friend more than it is about government conspiracy. Girls follows a group of dysfunctional young women managing their equally dysfunctional friendships. Even heinous multi-cam shows like The Big Bang Theory centre themselves on an unwieldy ideal of camaraderie.
The humanity of friendship, however, is an easy thing to implement in game narratives but difficult to master. With story writers and animators constantly upping the ante, the catalogue of games that excel in the feelings department is growing exponentially.
Such a game that sets out to achieve this is The Gardens Between from The Voxel Agents. From the team behind the popular Train Conductor series, this new Steam/Mac puzzle-adventure trades rail-lines for surreal islands populated with the emotional debris of our two young protagonists, Arina and Frendt.
We can only speculate on the mechanics but the trailer suggests that the game will lead the characters through a variety of islands, each with their own unique puzzles and environments. The camera movement alone makes me yearn for some Fez like perspective challenges while the use of the lantern in Arina’s hand might be indicative of puzzles that use light-physics and switches to traverse environments. And here’s where we cross our fingers for intelligent AI and/or co-op functionality.
At first I thought the game would employ a whimsical and expressive gibberish language similar Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons or The Last Guardian, however, The Gardens Between is language free to promote accessibility. Since the game has you travelling through crucial moments in Arina and Frendt’s lives, the expressive animation will have to serve as the primary characteriser and storyteller.
The visual identity of The Gardens Between feels familiar. Take pastel colour cues from the highly anticipated puzzle-adventure RiME and localising them, the locations and character designs are drop-dead gorgeous.
What really struck me most about this small preview is the sequence where Arina and Frendt walk holding hands. Whether that’s a functional mechanic or not, seeing such a simple gesture of friendship conveys a strong idea of what kind of game The Gardens Between is going to be: one shimmering with humanity.
The Gardens Between is coming to PC and Mac in late 2017.
Will Butler | @QuesaWilla