t’s so rare to see a game that truly feels like it’s attempting to do something unique these days. The cost of developing a game is high and indie developers can find it difficult to make their games stand out. The concept behind Waking is one that isn’t often touched upon in the real of games, but is it enough to make it worth playing?
In Waking, players take on the role of a character that is in a coma. The idea is to collect various memories to remember better times and get out of the coma. The project has been in the mind of its main developer, who wanted to make it a reality after going through a near death experience, for many years until he got a chance to make it a reality.
In order to collect memories, it’s necessary to first get to them and doing so requires defeating various creatures and solving the occasional basic puzzle. Sadly, it’s unfortunate that these fighting sequences have to be included in the game. The controls used for fighting are clunky at best. It’s not rare to try to charge an object currently being held to attack a creature and either fail to hit the target or not giving it enough time to charge. This is due to the temperamental controls that seem to want to make it as difficult as possible to enjoy the fights. The use of random objects found on the floor also means that it’s not always feasible to have some available nearby and it results in running around the current area looking for some.
Then there are the various abilities that players can unlock. The use of these isn’t explained particularly well and it usually results in a trial and error situation. At one point, one such ability that consisted of an acquired memory was used (after gaining some resources) and it resulted in being able to spawn a couple of useful items to use in a fight. It would have made fighting less of a chore if the game made a better job of properly explaining what every ability and such did.
It’s not just the fighting that could have done with some improvements. The very manner that the game world is explored is often vague and frustrating. The lack of clear instructions will often result in running around trying to figure out what to do next. At one point it’s necessary to interact with some items found in a level to raise platforms used to move to the boss room, but the game doesn’t make it clear that this is what must be done at all. It’s also really difficult to get an idea of any progress made since the game mostly consists of repeating the same cycle without much change.
The dull user interface that has been picked for the game doesn’t do it any favours either. Opening up the character menu, where abilities and such are picked, just brings up a bunch of text. It gives the impression that an alpha build of the game has been used as the release candidate. The same kind of effort is also found in other areas of the game, such as a menu used to dive into separate areas to locate specific memories.
It doesn’t help that the locations that players can explore are too similar and gloomy. If dark dungeons and gloomy forests is what being in a coma is like, then it’s no wonder that the game has such a depressing vibe, since it feels more like being trapped in one of the circles of hell. In fact, it seems to be more like one of those mystery dungeon games that randomize the same dungeons over and over again. The cherry on top of this bitter cake is the excessive amount of time that it takes to load into an area.
It’s not surprising that the best reason for playing Waking consists of the concept behind getting out of the coma. Usually found after a boss fight, are memories that players will gain from making a few choices. It turns out that these memories are populated from personal choices made by players. Waking will want to know about various key moments from the player’s life in a manner that is reminiscent of sharing personal experiences with a good friend that wants to know you better. This process of bringing up memories is aided by guided meditation sequences that really make it possible to remember the past as vividly as possible.
Taking part in the memory sections is such a relaxing experience that it really makes getting back to the grind after a chore. In fact, the voice doing the guided meditation is so similar to ASRM that it really feels like it will help to relax and heal. It’s clear that some thought went into integrating these memory sections and it could definitely help those burdened with mental issues.
Yet the game is also riddled with various quality assurance issues and it’s badly optimised. At one point the character fell off a platform during a monster fight and got stuck in a black screen whilst the monster continued to deal damage. It resulted in a significant amount of progress being lost, due to the poor checkpoint system, after having to quit to fix the issue.
Ultimately, Waking is its own worst enemy, since it seems confused as to what kind of game/experience it wants itself to be. The memory sections are interesting to say the least, but Waking has burdened itself with some really average action sequences.