Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Release date: November 6, 2015
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned first person sci-fi adventure game? It'd been awhile since I experienced one of these, hence Prominence was a welcome break from all the fantasy and detective games I'd been playing. The game was developed by Digital Media Workshop and although it's their first game, it demonstrates solid storytelling and puzzle-design along with a very firm understanding of how science-fiction adventures work.
The story is set in the distant feature where the Letarri people are trying to survive a galactic war. Eventually they decide to send a spacecraft full of engineers and scientists on a mission to habitat a new planet in an isolated corner of the Universe. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned. You wake up in the medical examination room of the ship, without any knowledge of who you are and how you ended up there. Soon you discover that the mission is aborted, all subsystems are malfunctioning and you're alone on the ship. Your main quest consists of restoring power, figuring out what went wrong, and seeing if there is still a way to successfully complete the mission.
As far as the story goes, I thought it was very well-planned and executed. The story simply opens up as you play the game. In the beginning you have very minimal information about the mission, the staff and the spaceship. By investigating logs and audio records left by the staff, you discover a great deal about the technical problems regarding the mission as well as the relationship between the staff members. The game certainly has some depth to it, especially if you don't slack off and you read/listen all the documents you find. The story also takes a number of unexpected turns; nowadays it's difficult to come up with plot twists that can genuinely surprise the player, but somehow the writers of Prominence managed to pull that trick off really well. In addition, if you want more background information on the gameworld, there's an online comic book on the developer’s website, which basically works like a prequel to the game. Overall, I really enjoyed the story and loved the fact that it opens up piece-by-piece, which offers a great sense of progress to the player. The game also has multiple endings, where the most satisfying one requires you to solve some extra puzzles.
In the beginning, only a few parts of the ship are accessible and you have to do quite a bit of mechanical work and computer-hacking to gain access to the rest of it. Most of the game’s puzzles involve figuring out how to restore power to various subsystems so you can get an engine working or unlock a door. We also get to collaborate with a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence ANNIE (think of a friendly version of HAL from 2001), who helps us navigate the ship and points out what needs to be fixed. I remember reading in an interview that the designers had put a lot of effort to make the puzzles well-integrated into the game. I think that effort paid off; there wasn't a single puzzle or an obstacle that looked out of place. I especially liked the ones that require you to manipulate the gravity, navigate a virtual library and assemble a mini-spacecraft. They're not very difficult; I would rate the game somewhere between easy to medium in the difficulty department. Although I usually like my games more challenging, I appreciated the designers' efforts to make puzzles realistic.
The game is played from the first-person perspective with continuous panning, which brings a cool old-school vibe. This type of first-person interface was really popular in late '90s/early 2000s adventure games. Since some of my favorite games are from that era, I got a very nice sense of nostalgia playing this game. The resolution and textures are not that great, but this is totally understandable considering the budgetary limits. On the other hand, voiceovers are very good which is a big plus, as listening to all those audio logs would have been very boring otherwise. Ambience and mechanical/electronical sounds are also well-done.
On the negative side, some parts of the game fall short compared to its strong points. For instance, navigation gets tedious really quick. Especially later in the game, getting from point A to point B requires way too many transitions. Some shortcuts are available, but they aren't sufficient. There's also a significant amount of pixel hunting in the game. Whenever I got stuck, it was because I forgot to click on something in some obscure part of the screen. Another glaring flaw is the amount of linearity in the game. Most of the time you only have a single objective, hence when you get stuck it gets frustrating quickly. Given how large the spaceship is and how many different challenges you face throughout the game, making the gameplay nonlinear would have made much more sense. I feel the developers really missed the potential that's there. These are the only aspects that stops the game moving from B grade to A grade.
Prominence is a solid addition to the list of science-fiction themed adventure games, and although it's not perfect, it has an amazing old-school vibe with nice puzzles and engaging gameplay. I'm looking forward to playing the next installation by Digital Media Workshop very much.
+ Awesome setting and engaging story
+ Nice voice-acting
+ Well-integrated puzzles
- Tedious navigation
- Linear gameplay