By far the most interesting part of the Eurogamer Expo was not the significant part of the show floor devoted to next-generation consoles, but a small tunnel in the corner of the show floor.
Festooned with Sega sponsorship branding on the outside and two rows of PCs on the inside, the Indie Arcade, as it was called, played host to a number of interesting games including the immensely endearing twin-stick shooter Assault Android Cactus, the gorgeous freerunning platformer Cloudbuilt and the light-and-dark puzzle platformer Chroma. One of the most intriguing and mysterious titles in the Arcade, though, was tucked away at the far end: Master Reboot.
Representatives from the developer Wales Interactive -- who are, yes, Welsh -- weren't around when I sat down to play Master Reboot, so I had to explore the game for myself and figure out what was going on. Here's what I saw.
The demo began with the main character, whom you control from a first-person perspective, waking up on a beach, without any explanation of who they were or what they were doing there. I was immediately struck by the game's beautiful, distinctive aesthetic; while much of the game is presented as flat-shaded, low-polygon objects (apparently inspired by the memorably distorted appearance of LucasArts' classic adventure Day of the Tentacle), the game also makes use of some very modern effects, too; as you look out over the ocean into the sunset, the water bobs and waves realistically, while "god rays" emanate from the sun, dazzling you if you look too directly at it.
The beach appears to be deserted, so the first thing I set to doing was investigating what appeared to be some sort of wreckage scattered around the area. I came across a cube with a glowing object inside it, and touching it transported me to a forest presented in the same distinctive graphical style -- once again, it was sunset, the rays of the sun this time dappled by the trees all around me.
It was clear I was in a digital realm rather than a depiction of the real world, though; straying too far from the path the game clearly wanted me to go resulted in running into a a red force field that prevented me from going further in that direction. Along the forest path, though, there were a number of opportunities to diverge a little from the path, though it was usually obvious where I needed to head.
A little exploration yielded an axe, and I soon discovered that I could use the axe to chop through fallen logs that blocked a number of pathways. Cutting through these logs deformed the level geometry in real-time -- I had to actually cut a gap wide enough to squeeze through rather than simply hitting the log until it magically exploded into a shower of wood chippings.
Further exploration and a little impromptu woodcutting led me to what appeared to be a small Japanese-style shrine in the forest. Within the shrine was a rubber duck; I took it, and backtracked to a previous junction where I'd had two options as to which way I could proceed. I took the other path and found myself ascending a stone staircase into the cliffs; there was a strange, square depression in the ground and a block with a depiction of the rubber duck I'd picked up. I placed the duck on the plinth and another glowing cube, much like the one I'd seen on the beach, rose up from the ground. I touched it and was once again transported to another place.
This time, it was what appeared to be a small town, or at least a collection of buildings. Each building's door was marked with the "memory" it apparently contained; I proceeded to the "hospital memory" door and suddenly found myself in the darkened hallways of what appeared to be an abandoned hospital, though fortunately there was a working flashlight I could use discarded just ahead of me.
Exploring the hospital revealed an exit door with four lights that wouldn't open. Picking my way through the darkened corridors, I discovered that scattered around the place were several flatlining EKG monitors; touching them caused the waves to begin beating again, and one of the lights on the exit doorway to light up.
It seemed I wasn't alone in the hospital, though; walking through the corridors, I'd occasionally hear footsteps that weren't my own, and upon arriving in one particular room I could have sworn I'd seen some of the furniture move. There was what looked like a young girl, too, but as I approached, she walked away and vanished into the darkness. And once again, there was a rubber duck, this time glowing eerily in the darkness, almost like it wanted to draw my eye.
At this point, the demo ended, and I was both confused and intrigued, so I sought out some additional information to provide a bit of context as to what was going on.
Master Reboot's core concept is that the digital age has made the idea of "death" all but obsolete; your precious memories can be uploaded to the Soul Cloud, where they can be preserved forever. You begin the game having seemingly died recently; your arrival on the beach is a sign that something has, however, gone wrong in the upload process. The initial confusion is deliberate -- you're supposed to have no idea of who you are or why you're there, and the main point of the game is to explore your various memories and figure out the answers to these questions. Each of the "rooms" you explore houses a puzzle to solve, which in turn locks away a memory about your past. You'll need to piece together all of the memories to discover the truth of what happened -- though at the same time, you'll need to avoid the unwanted attentions of the "anti-virus," which believes you're the source of the problems in the Soul Cloud network.
The game's got a very distinctive look and feel about it, and the part I played in the demo unfolded entirely without words, which only served to make the experience more intriguing and spooky. The final game promises 34 different environments to explore, a mysterious storyline to uncover and more of the same distinctive, angular visuals seen in the demo. Plus, I'm guessing, more rubber ducks.
I'm certainly interested to find out what happens next, and you'll be able to join me in the discovery process when the game releases for PlayStation 3, PC and Mac this Halloween.