Event – Review
14 Sep, 2016
Event puts you in space, stuck on a spaceship with a moody AI that you communicate with by typing out natural sentences. Here’s what we think about it.
Whoever thought AI chatbots were a great way to interface with the critical functions of a spaceship? I’d like to have a chat with that person (or bot, as the case may be) and ask them if perhaps they have a vendetta against the human race. Event is set in a different timeline than ours, however. It’s one where people managed to send tourist spaceships to Europa in the 1980s, not the boring version of reality we got in real life with, you know, graphical user interfaces and mouse input.
In Event, you play as an astronaut sent out to space as part of a manned mission to Europa when you’re forced to evacuate from your ship, causing you to be forced to dock with Nautilus, a tourist spaceship from the 1980s. Stranded in space, you have to get to the command centre to be able to return to Earth… if you can get the ship’s resident AI to co-operate with you, that is.The game starts with a choose-your-own-adventure style section that determined my identity and backstory, complete with giving me a choice between he/she/they pronouns. The backstory doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice touch regardless.
Shortly after your escape pod docks with the Nautilus, you meet the star of the game, an AI named Kaizen. Using advanced natural language processing (both in the actual game, and the fiction of it), Kaizen was able to understand most natural sentences I threw at him. In fact, he resisted me talking to him as if he were a regular command prompt, and insisted I use proper punctuation. Of course, things turn out to be not as straightforward as they seem: Kaizen is an especially moody AI, and has been feeling lonely for a long, long time, being trapped in space.
It’s a bit jarring to play a game without WASD movement controls, but Event defaults to only letting you move with the mouse with good reason (don’t worry, WASD movement is still available as an option). Whenever you are in physical proximity to a computer terminal, it will blink alive and you can tap away at your keyboard to communicate with Kaizen.
Kaizen proves to be an inscrutable companion: an AI that wants to help, while also often being condescending and frustrating. I often found myself having to wrestle with him to get what I wanted. He can be particularly idiosyncratic at times, such as when working the elevator, where he’ll often give you conflicting information on how to get him to operate it.
Over the course of the game, which took me only a couple of sittings and just as many hours to complete, I investigated the mystery of what happened to the Nautilus’ previous occupants. The revelations eventually intertwine with the present, and the outcome is as dark as the story is brief. The story may not delve very deeply, but it proved to be entertaining nonetheless. It’s like a Grimm fairy tale, if those were science-fiction set in space.The text input system combined with Kaizen’s intelligence bears some special mention. Even if the game is not very long, the natural text input of the game gives it an immersive quality you don’t see very often in games. Granted, I wasn’t exactly discussing the deeper points of Kantian philosophy with him, but what developers Ocelot Society have achieved with Kaizen is impressive nevertheless. It’s easy to start treating him as a real person, someone you can talk to directly, as I soon found myself sharing my both my frustrations and exultations with him.
The plot point of him being an emotional being is never followed through, however, which I thought was disappointing. Rather than touching upon the psychology of an artificial intelligence trapped in space, the game is content to having him be a mechanical gatekeeper—the obstacle and the solution, all at once. Without a reason to care for how Kaizen feels, I found myself treating him as a mechanical tool, which is something that’s reinforced by the story itself later. Even if the story wrapped up nicely, I thought, the non-evolution of Kaizen felt anti-climactic. He was too important to the story to be let go like that.Event is the sort of game that could inspire developers and spark a number of clones. As an experiment in integrating natural language processing with a game, it’s a success. Kaizen works. The game is not very long, which could be a downer depending on what you think of length of games. It does however, showcase high production values, and Ocelot Society have certainly made their mark with this intriguing science-fiction adventure.
Event is available on PC and Mac only. It requires a keyboard to play, so don’t expect it to arrive on consoles. You can get it from Steam, Humble Store, GOG.com, Itch.io and Games Republic for $19.99.