Spirits of Xanadu – What We Think:
Nothing compares to the vast darkness of space. It’s a truly isolating place, and as much as we learn about space, we may never know and understand it completely. What’s more terrifying than the fear of the unknown? Spirits of Xanadu by Good Morning, Commander plays on that fear within a mysterious environment.
You play as a nameless protagonist who is tasked to bring Xanadu – a ship which has been mysteriously abandoned – back to earth. The crew’s mission has not been fulfilled, and it’s your job to finish it. The overall plot setup is fairly simple but grows more complex once you start learning more about the ship’s demise.
The game plays a lot like a first person walking simulator/narrative game. The story is uncovered via exploration and clues found within the ship. Spirits of Xanadu relies heavily on audio diaries and pages of text to expand on its narrative. You’ll explore the Xanadu, picking up audio diaries to learn first-hand accounts from the ship’s crew members.
Uncovering the plot this way works some of the time, but fails to create a more engaging experience. Without a diverse environment to explore, you’re left with just audio diaries and pages of text, which is unsatisfying. And since the plot is the main focus of the game, it makes the the goal of the game feel less compelling overall.
Games like Bioshock or Gone Home utilize environmental storytelling to help supplement the narrative by giving it an extra layer of depth. They have enough within their environment alongside audio tapes or pages of text to help expand on the narrative. With Spirits of Xanadu, the ship itself is not detailed enough to incorporate more environmental storytelling. The developers could have implemented more of it, because there was one great example of it within the game.
There is one instance where you come across a trail of blood on the floor leading down through a hallway into a different area of the ship. Without having to rely on an audio diary for explanation, you can follow the trail and somewhat piece together what happened. When I found the trail of blood, I was intrigued and nervous about what was at the other end. That tension – that mystery – created by the environment is what I wished for more of throughout the game.
The Tale of the Tapes
The plot itself is cliched but still well-written for the genre. The audio diaries in particular are well-acted and believable. While Spirits of Xanadu did have some of the usual tropes of a sci-fi space drama, there was still some intrigue within the plot. I felt like the narrative could have gone into more interesting places, and the core idea behind what was on the ship could have led to some outlandish scenarios, but it never did. It’s a mediocre sci-fi narrative that in itself felt lackluster.
Once you understand what has happened to the ship, your goal now shifts to completing the mission. To do this, you must fix the ship’s engines and find data drivers to get the ship into an operational state. These objectives are simple, since they involve no more than a simple scavenger hunt and pushing some buttons. The only thing that stands in your way and offers some challenge is a handful of robots.
Ahead By A Sentry
The game has light shooting mechanics that are very simple. You have a handgun with a charged shot, and you can find a machine gun as well. The robots aren’t too difficult to destroy and definitely add to the game’s eerie atmosphere. However, since the robots don’t offer that much of a threat, their main goal is just to offer some small obstacles in your way to the objectives. It’s clear that the passable shooting mechanics were not the main focus of the game. Once you’ve killed every robot on the ship, the game loses a significant amount of tension. Exploring the ship feels very isolating, and the atmosphere shifts into something less unnerving.
The game does a good job of creating a strange, almost soundless atmosphere to explore. There is a low, ambient, dreary music in the game, which makes it feel even more isolating. Sparse rooms and hallways, along with the game’s muted color palate, give the ship a lonely macabre feel. Its stylistic lack of color made the game feel almost otherworldly, which I presumed was exactly what the developers were going for. The game’s atmosphere was perfect for the narrative it told, and the developers did a great job of nailing both in tandem to complement one another.
Overall, though, this game felt lacking to me. Whether it was the core mechanics, the plot or the environment itself, it all felt like it could have used more work. I think there was some wasted potential that could have been used to create a more entertaining sci-fi narrative. It totally could have delved into some fantastic scenarios thanks to a neat idea – I can’t give it away, because it’s a spoiler – but Spirits of Xanadu ultimately feels like squandered potential to create something truly noteworthy.
Spirits of Xanadu is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Spirits of Xanadu below: