One to Watch: Scanner Sombre

Introversion Software are best known for their gambols in the management and strategy spheres. They showed two currently-in-development prototypes at Rezzed 2016. One, Wrong Wire, was decidedly more traditional in terms of what Introversion usually tends to go for – and perhaps  the reason it saw a little more action during the session was that it appealed to the studio’s wider fanbase. The inquisitive narrative-junkie I am, however, I found myself instantaneously more attracted to their other showcased work in progress, Scanner Sombre. 

It’s mostly an exploration game, in which you’re plonked down into a pitch-dark cave and left to find your way around, by use of the thermal scanner that exists as your only tool in the game. Perhaps a given, thermo-vision is heavily resorted to; a very simple concept that strikes as incredibly atmospheric, and more than a little disquieting. Using the mouse and WASD keyboard controls, you meander about a (for now) simple system of tunnels, illuminating the cave interior as you go. Rock surfaces, stairwells and rickety rope bridges greeted me suddenly in vibrant, granulated display, and as the scroll wheel can be used to control how widely the device scans, some entered areas felt more secretive and dangerous than others.

scanner_sombre

It doesn’t feel like a game that’d hammer you over the head with just how much player choice there is, but Scanner still has the potential to become complex and diverse. You could choose to illuminate entire areas before you even enter an alcove and enjoy the scratchy gallery in full, or revel in the unknown and light only the footways that lie directly ahead. This vague sense of choice could, with further development) yield different trajectories, with potential to discover different items or uncover secrets. There is the potential for a unique adventure each time within this simple gimmick – environments just need to be more expansive and interconnected.

Despite its overtly exploratory basis, there are glimpses of a narrative within Scanner’s hauntingly granular world. This vibrant, painter-palette world is space-like and undeniably beautiful, but it’s only until you’re confronted with the possibility that you might not be alone here that things begin to get frightening. The scanner brings the power of vision, but it doesn’t allow you to see fully, and when my potholing exploits were interrupted by some strange, immobile, Dr. Who-weeping-angel-type being, I was rendered – at least partially – vulnerable.

Who (or indeed what) the figure is remained to be seen, but it certainly raises questions about the playable protagonist. Are we playing ourselves in this FPS-perspectived world, or are we somebody else. If so, the figure could mean a variety of different things, including the character’s history, relationships and importantly: mental state.

It’ll certainly be interesting to find out

There are a few environmental issues that prevent the player from moving smoothly from area to area on occasion, but on the whole Introversion offered a solid prototype, with more than a few questions attached. With a lot of development, Scanner Sombre’s gameplay could quite potentially be blown wide open, with the effervescent darkness serving potential puzzle elements, whilst its elusive exposition regarding the playable character is what has me most intrigued. Being a prototype, it’ll probably be a while before word of an official release surfaces, but right now the demo was enough to ponder upon.

I can wait.

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