GAME REVIEW | Reclaiming Life’s Purpose in "Waking"
Jason Oda knows how to create some interesting premises in video games, especially when it comes to the concept of death. His Continue?9876543210 still stands as one of the most haunting experiences I’ve ever come across in the medium, giving me hopes that he could add some new touches to concepts of old. While his latest game Waking isn’t exactly a jaw-dropping heart-stopper like his predecessor, it does offer some great ideas and imaginative takes on fighting for one’s right to live.
Published by TinyBuild Games, Waking has you playing yourself. You’re in a coma clinging to life, and are stuck in a world where your greatest strengths are your weapon and your weaknesses your shield. The path the game takes you on is based on your own personal choices and feelings in life, with every aspect affect by your own memories. If you think that sounds like a gamer’s personal journey, then you’d be absolutely right.
The game has you roaming through dark worlds, with glimmers of light leading you to various worlds and destinations. As you unlock memories and reveal your true self, you’ll earn new powers and stamina to help you on your journey. But there will be many things that will keep you from reaching your goal of escaping your coma, with Death himself even coming to you asking if you simply just want to die. (Moments like this are the reason for the game’s warning in the intro, which asks that those with mental illnesses be cautious when playing.)
I once compared Continue?9876543210 to a Nick Cave album, but Waking feels more like one of his collaborative soundtracks with bandmate Warren Ellis. There’s this feeling of emptiness and deep sadness when you tread through this world. Moments of external battles battling head-on with the internal ones will have you wondering what all of life is about. A couple of times, I had to actually take a break from playing so as to not think too deeply about the questions this game had me attempting to answer.
Life goals? Greatest regrets? Human flaws? Waking forces you to think about what makes you tick and what might keep you up at night worrying about where the path’s taking you. (Especially now with the current state of the world, this game really knows how to get to you.) But in reality, Jason Oda wants to help you more than make you question everything.
As the game goes on, you’ll find former pets, lost loved ones, and those you care about coming to you as aid. These will become the foundations of what drives you to keep you from giving up and succumbing to that coma. In a big way, Waking is teaching us to never bat away a hand that’s reaching out to help, nor should you simply throw all of your dreams and goals away if you trip over a bump on life’s road. With its presentation, Oda’s latest game gives players the chance to be Sisyphus and finally push that giant boulder over that massive hill.
But the journey isn’t an easy one. The enemies you’ll come across will be simple at first, but will get as tough as the questions being asked. It’s hard not to call some enemies Dark Souls-like, but there’s honestly no other way of saying it. Some of these inner demons will make you want to give up the game entirely, but with the right combinations of strengths, weaknesses, and helping hands, the path towards your reawakening will get closer to its destination. (You can also turned down the difficulty if needed, which I had to do a few times.)
Despite all of the good Waking delivers, there are some flaws that keep it being as memorable as Continue?9876543210. While some parts of the game are beautiful, most of the levels where you fight can seem pretty muddy. I’m also not sure if it was a design choice or not, but areas with a lot going on got static-y, to the point where I thought something might be wrong with my TV. Lastly, the game can feel pretty slow in some parts, with a confusing layout making soldiering through certain areas a challenge. (Again, it could be a possible design choice.)
- Deep storytelling
- Some beautiful moments
- Good combat
- Might be too much for people with mental illnesses
- Some muddied visuals
- Very slow-paced
Waking is a slow burn. It is also an emotional roller coaster that will have you thinking of your own life and personal choices. Jason Oda delivers the What Dreams May Come of video games, and while it has its issues, Waking delivers a deep experience that will hopefully have you coming out of it a better person.
Promotional consideration provided by Alex Nichiporchik of TinyBuild. Reviewed on the Xbox One.