Karaski: What Goes Up... is a very clever game. Its narrative is billed as open-ended, non-linear and, most notably, player-driven. You're told that you'll control the story and that your actions and choices will shape the past, present and future.
I wondered if it would be possible to weave this kind of narrative in a believable way. Well, I'm happy to report that Unbound Creations has done a masterful job of pulling it off.
I did three full playthroughs of the preview build and each was surprisingly different. The narrative's many variables, which can also impact the length of the game, give Karaski tremendous replay value.
The first bit of gameplay serves as a tutorial. Subsequently, the game keeps track of things for you by maintaining your inventory, quest lists, suspects, clues you've uncovered and maps of the airship's decks. It's just about impossible to lose one's way either directionally or plot-wise.
Although the game does suggest what to do next, you aren't bound by it. There are usually several open quests from which to choose. You're also free to ignore these and go your own way. You need not complete all quests in order to finish the game.
All dialog in Karaski appears as text (no voiceovers). The volume of the music, sound effects and ambient sounds, all of which are excellent, can be adjusted.
For the most part, the game has a colorful, slightly cartoonish look. But you'll also find reproductions of World War I posters courtesy of the Library of Congress, Northwestern University Library and the National Archives and Records Administration. I think that's pretty cool.
Karaski takes place on the maiden voyage of the world's first airship, the A.A. Karaski. Its story is set against a backdrop of political intrigue. Opposing factions are represented on the ship by various NPCs.
The third day out, the ship is sabotaged. It's up to you to find the culprit by questioning passengers and crew. The suspects are so nuanced that none of them is clearly guilty (or innocent, for that matter). Further, each has something to hide.
You're able to roam around on the ship's four decks, although many areas are off-limits. This is where stealth comes into play.
As you sneak around, you can find gadgets that will make your covert activities a little less taxing. Money and bottles of booze are also scattered about for you to steal. These come in ever-so-handy as bribes and tongue-looseners.
The game includes a suspicion meter that indicates the degree to which you appear guilty. If you're discovered doing something you shouldn't (breaking into rooms; stealing things; snooping around in restricted areas), the suspicion meter's level ratchets up a notch.
I quickly maxed out the meter during my first playthrough (I tend to stink at stealth). This didn't prohibit me from continuing the game however. What it did do was cause stewards and passengers who caught sight of me to stop dead in their tracks and stare at me. This was quite unnerving. It also made me a pretty good suspect, and negatively impacted my ability to interact with others.
My first playthrough was also the shortest in duration. I was actually grateful for this. My inability to successfully sneak, prowl, skulk and plunder had left me worn out.
I fared better during playthroughs two and three. Everything improved after I stopped being such a wuss and started barreling rather recklessly though restricted areas.
Karaski can be played with keyboard/mouse or Xbox 360 controller for Windows. The game offers a high degree of customization when it comes to key bindings; most controls can be re-mapped (bless you, Unbound). There are also unlimited saves (bless you again, Unbound).
Okay, so no game is perfect. I do have a problem with one aspect of Karaski: the game can be saved only at pre-determined points. This became an issue when I wanted to leave the game and had to search for one of these points in order to not lose any progress.
As the preview version is still in Beta, I knew there would be bugs. I did encounter some, but none of the show-stopping variety. I have every confidence that Unbound will have taken care of the little beasties by the time the game is officially launched for PC/Windows on Steam in February 2016.
Based on the Beta, and allowing for its missteps, I predict that the final version of Karaski: What Goes Up... will be a wonderfully entertaining game that I won't hesitate to recommend. And now, there's only one thing left to say. Way to go, Unbound Creations!