You guys know what the worst part about having a secret super weakness is? I’ll tell you: it’s people finding out that weakness. That shit is just the worst. Almost makes having a secret weakness not worth it in the first place.
For instance that one Megan Fox who creates video games — games about kitties and fire and kitties and private eyes, all good stuff — has, either through sleuthing or through happenstance, figured out that I am super weak to learning about new, cool-sounding games. And make no mistake: she is using this knowledge for nefarious purposes. Sure, to casual observers, it looks as if she’s just tweeting about cool new games for her several hundred followers with no obvious ill intent. But I know the truth, oh yes, I do.
Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be able to work out how that screed relates to me playing Halfway, the apparently first major release of development gang Robotality, for Indie Wonderland this week. See if you can connect the dots.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, relatively high.)
Halfway opens up on a pretty, pixelated establishing shot of what appears to be a futuristic-looking storage room surrounded by darkness. As eerie, subdued electronic music plays, the game’s own title fades into view above it. Halfway. Quite a way to start off an adventure, I’ll say.
I briefly consider getting a screenshot of this gorgeous opening to show to you guys. But then I accidentally hit an Any Key and the view is immediately obscured by this blue-grey colour filter. So I guess that’s what you’re getting instead.
Alright, what we got? Menu possibilities are sparse: Continue Game is understandably grayed out, Credits aren’t interesting, and Options hides only a perfunctory smattering of tweaks. Resolution settings and tutorial options under Video, for some reason, music and sound effects in Audio, and a whole mess of buttons I can’t contextualize yet in Controls. It all looks so gray, too, the colour of the opening storage room long-forgotten under this barrage of black and blue.
Interestingly, when I press New Game, nothing much seems to happen at first. I’m just… brought back to that opening screen I showed you earlier. Okay, it’s slightly different: there’s an outline visible in the center screen, now, and some accompanying text for that green dot.
Luckily, my standard mode of operation in situations like this is to click everything that looks out of place until things happen. Old point-and-click adventure game reflexes, I guess. It’s because of this it’s-weird-click-it reflex that I decide to poke the green dot — it’s bright and green and clearly visible, what was I going to do, not click it? — and doing so, it turns out, gets me into the game proper.
After a brief text-only introduction sequence.
‘In space, corporations have taken over all power.’ Yeah, they tend to do that. What is it with corporations and space power? It’s like, you leave Earth and blam: corporations take over. They’re just poised for that zero-gravity power boost.
‘FTL drives allow humans to spread across the galaxy.’ Again, expected behaviour, that is totally what humans would do. Not like the galaxy itself has much else going for it, am I right?
‘That is, until everything went to shit.’ And we’re three for three on the ‘not blowing my mind here’ scale, Halfway. Corporations take over, humans spread, shit hits fans. Next thing you’ll tell me it was a spaceship called ‘Titanic’ or something that started the whole mess.
And just like that, I’m back in the small room from the start. I’ve traded the outline and the main menu HUD for my colour back, which is nice, and for a grumpy space man with a gun, which is… maybe also nice? It could be nice.
Grumpy Space Man With A Gun — a cursory look to the bottom left of the screen establishes his name as Morten L. — has just woken up from cryo-sleep, because that is what you do on spaceships like this. His head is hurting, his surroundings are strange, and a nearby console is trying to draw his attention through the tried-and-true method of MMO Quest Marker. Just goes to show you: it doesn’t matter where you are in space, and how far you may or may not be from Earth’s solar rotation cycle, the Mondays will find you.
I’m given the reigns over Grumpy Space Morten. Left click walks me around the small room, conveniently split up into recognizable squares. Right click does the same, and I can’t really tell if there’s supposed to be a difference between the two. Arrows and WASD don’t walk, but WASD does pan the camera around something fierce. Finally, some random button-mashing on my end reveals that spacebar opens up some sort of character-bound micro-HUD. None of the options on it are currently available, however.
Morten runs over to talk to the intercom console, which apparently connects him to a poorly understandable virtual character of some description, called Amber. From what I can make out, the Goliath has been ‘atta..ed’ — gee, I wonder what that could mean — and I’m to make my way to the living quarters.
One room over, I find an equipment locker with a similar case of the Quest Markers. In it, I find a medkit, some Standard Ammo, and a gun. By pressing [I], I can open my inventory, and…
Wait, hold on. ‘My gun’ was in that locker? Don’t I have one already? Sure enough, when I get into the inventory, only the gun I just picked up is there. But… Morten’s been holding a gun the entire time! Literally the first thing I saw when I started this new game was Morten, leaning against his cryopod, holding a gun.
Morten’s inventory actually doubles as his character screen, which allows me to learn more about him. Sure, he wears a standard ship overall and carries a GSA classic carbine MK-I, a medkit and some ammo, but who is he really?
I mean, I don’t actually find that out. But I can see that Morten has 16 health, 2 agility, 5 aiming, an active skill called ‘Steady Shot’ that gives his next shot a 100% to-hit chance, and a passive skill that increases his damage with assault rifles. That’s… that’s like a look into his motivations and deepest desires, right? Here is a man who clearly cares about assault rifles a great deal.
I have Morten walk through a door on the right. My reward: an establishing shot of the ship. It’s pretty.
Much more interesting than the ship’s larger area, though, is another small room to the right. In that room, I find another, much more purple-haired survivor, named Linda. Linda Carter, to be precise: the Steam achievement I get for meeting her tells me so.
Anyway: Morten (Lannis, it turns out) and Linda talk for a while, quickly reaching the conclusion that neither of them have any idea what is going on. Then, the sound hums to a crescendo and the screen flashes white, in a reproduction of the Teleglitch teleportation effect. Morten takes this to mean that the ship has jumped through hyperspace, and I… I guess I’ll take his word for that? I wouldn’t know what that kind of stuff is like.
Then, a door opens. Morten welcomes the figure on the other side as Johannson, clearly oblivious to the fact that the figure on the other side is some sort of weird, creepy human-like space mutant.
Unsurprisingly, Zombannson walks up to Morten and energy-punches him straight in the guts. This triggers combat mode, because nobody sucker-punches Morten Lannis.
In this particular case, combat mode is nothing more complicated than ‘I click on the enemy, Morten rifle-butts it, and it disintegrates into space dust’. But I can already tell Halfway’s combat has a very recent-XCOM-y vibe to it. It’s turn-based, Me against Them, and each character gets two action points. Action points can be used for walking, attacking, reloading, using items, and using special skills like Morten’s Steady Shot or Linda’s (apparently) Self-Heal.
After killing Johannsenstein, Morten and Linda decide to press on. Would I like to go to the next area, Yes/No, the game asks me. ‘You can continue exploring if you want!’ Well, in that case, I think I will look around a little more, thank you very much. I haven’t even seen any part of that cool lower area yet!
Turns out exploring is actually the way to go: by talking to a PDA and extending a bridge, I can access a hidden area full of glowing stuff containers. Medkits, ammo… even a prototype new shotgun for Linda. Why would I ever just cut and run?
Finally, having exhausted all other options, I choose to run to the northern door and proceed to the next area. Initially, I have Morten and Linda each make their way around individually: press 1 for Morten, press 2 for Linda, and so on. But as it turns out, the reason left-mouse walking and right-mouse walking were indistinguishable for Morten-solo is because right-mouse walking makes the entire team move. Not a bad time saver, all in all.
The next area has more of everything the first area had: more doors, more items, more boxes, more combat. The official tutorial extends the combat system a little: it introduces light and heavy cover, which I already expected would be an element in this game, and boosting shot accuracy at the expense of action points, which basically makes them Snap Shots and Aimed Shots by any other name.
I fight a bunch of the weird jumpsuit zombies, all nameless this time. Some are melee-focused, walking up to me and discharging arcs of electricity. Some are ranged-focus, using their arm cannons to fire ineffectual-looking blobs of generic energy at me. But then again, Linda’s shotgun fires a similar brand of Space Nonsense, so who am I to point fingers?
I kill some zombies and find some items: shielded armor suits, stat-boosting stimpacks, medkits, ammo, the works. After killing everything that moves and pillaging everything that glows, I leave this area through the one door appointed for me, and that’s where the mission ends.
At least, I think the mission ended? It’s tough to pinpoint exactly, but I think the giveaway that led me to believe I am no longer in direct danger was the game’s popup telling me I am now in my ‘Homebase’, a place I can rest, talk to my team, manage equipment, and organize missions.
Homebase though it may be, my options are still rather limited. I can add and remove equipment, giving it to either character — up to their carry limit of eight items — or putting it in a shared bank. I can also recycle items into energy, which can then be used to buy items from the shop… except that all items I currently have access to are much too expensive for me. Finally, I can talk to Linda about our situation, and I do: we agree that a) shit is messed up and we have no idea what’s going on, b) this temporary hideout isn’t exactly the Ritz hotel, but it’ll keep any zombie monsters out, c) that said, we need more supplies, and d) our first priority should be to go rescue a man called Mule from another cryo-tank.
Not entirely incidentally, ‘get more supplies’ and ‘rescue Mule’ are the two missions I can choose to engage in. The Mule mission is green, which I choose to believe makes it a Main Quest, making the yellow supplies run a Side Quest.
For now, though, Morten is suggesting both he and Linda get what little rest they can. I see no reason to steal that rest from them, so I’ll cut out here for now: be back later, once I rescue a man called Mule and maybe some other people?