Atomp Review – CAPSULE, [Adam Saltsman, Robin Arnott]

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By Tom Hooper aka Atomp

Changing theme from last week we’re looking at something a little more complete, if not smaller in scope. CAPSULE is brought to you by Adam Saltsman and Robin Arnott and is an atmospheric survival horror(ish) game. A warped offshoot of the simple yet difficult Lunar Lander, CAPSULE builds its gameplay with a well realised atmosphere of tension and dread, although really it is the other way around with the gameplay feeding off the atmosphere generated both by the aesthetic and immersive soundscape courtesy of Robin Arnott.

The concept of the game is based around that oh-so-brilliant theme of underwater claustrophobia. I will admit that coming into the game I was already a great fan of the use of this theme, many amazing films work fantastically due to the claustrophobic nature of the deep sea, the lingering danger presented by limited air and the sheer weight of the water bearing down upon every facet of the setting, story and character. There are a great many submarine films that work upon the principle of this ‘bottling’ of the film within a confined area surrounded by inhospitable space, however the best is probably The Abyss. This is where I found the most similarity; remove the viewing bubbles from the subs in that film and reduce the outside underwater world to a basic navigation computer operating through a simple display on emergency power and essentially have CAPSULE. This reduction of the outside to a series of blobs, which can only be identified when scanned places the player into that tiny metal capsule skimming along the bottom of the deep in search of answers, all the while hounded by dwindling air and diminishing power. The gameplay itself, if torn away from the atmosphere and sound is actually relatively simple. In such a sterilised view it is a simple game of maintaining two bars whilst reaching vaguely marked objectives. Unfortunately this is going to be the experience that some take away from playing the game, as the developer states; “…most importantly, this: CAPSULE is not for everyone, I can’t stress this enough, but for those of you who (like me) are into this sort of thing, I can’t wait for you to enjoy it!” I think that whilst CAPSULE is not for everyone it is certainly worth trying out. This is something I feel I have been saying with increasing frequency, perhaps it is the games that I choose to look at or perhaps it is just the nature of attempting to write about something as inherently subjective as games, especially indies.

There are other elements of the gameplay that expand upon these basic principles, the air and power must be topped up with pickups, however these pickups are scattered among a variety of other phenomenon varying from lichen to the unknown, and all the while the only way of accurately distinguishing objects remains the scanning process, a relatively slow procedure designed to increase the tension. The choice of speed and direction will also impact upon the gameplay, direction in an obvious way with the player weighing up how worthwhile a specific detour might be and speed which through audio feedback from the engines influences just how fast you feel comfortable going and how many of the potential side-effects you can deal with. All of these gameplay factors combine with others you’ll have to discover yourself to build the sense of tension when in combination with the atmospheric sound and appropriate aesthetic.

The game also features a narrative that drives forward progress through the downloading of logs and communiques from the objective locations, I will avoid giving any of this away but I will say that the story is interesting and fits comfortably within the deep-sea sci-fi genre it so lovingly embraces. (CAPSULE is the little spoon). I personally very much enjoy this type of story telling, unravelling a past event through snippets of information left behind.

The visual appearance of CAPSULE is a depiction of the output of a simple navigational program onto a evidently old and battered CRT display. The graphical display is monochrome, the depiction of items is mostly iconic with textual labels all in a low resolution (with pixel bleeding so no crips pixel edges) and the addition of scan lines. I believe this lack of object and scenery rendering is very intentional and is used to compound the feeling of an unknown outside whilst cementing how dire the situation within the capsule is whereupon the most basic of navigational software is available. Overall whilst the aesthetic may not appeal to some it is very fitting and provides a perfect companion to the sound design in producing a very solid and engaging experience.

The sound design is absolutely worthy of mention in this case; the ambient sound is very solid as the sensation of claustrophobia is extended by a variety of mechanical sounds and very importantly the breathing. The sound of character breathing is nothing new, many games involving gas or oxygen masks use it for the very reason that it is very effective in creating tension. CAPSULE is no exception and there is a great deal of immersion within the cramped dark capsule lit by a barely functional CRT display, quiet besides the your breathing some machinery and the reverberating rumble of the engine. This quiet atmosphere is then punctured by your sensor pings as you attempt to make sense of the world outside of your dark little can.

CAPSULE is available the the game’s homepage, which itself is an extension of the style and plot of the game. (If anyone can decode those two paragraphs of what looks like a mess of unicode then I would be more than happy to learn what they mean). The purchasing method is the ever brilliant Humble Store and the game is priced at $8.00 (approx £5.21). This price does seem a tad steep and could be a turn-off. The available platforms are Windows and Mac with no official Linux support, principally I suppose because it appears to be Adobe AIR based. I believe there are ways of getting AIR to function natively using older Linux binaries or through Wine but don’t buy expecting to run the game flawlessly on Linux. CAPSULE remains a game for a certain type of gamer, so having read this if you continue to be interested then I’d recommend checking out the home page and its video and the other couple of links that I’ve provided which give substantially more information than  the stylised homepage.

CAPSULE Website (inc. Humble Store)

Information on CAPSULE

More information on CAPSULE

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