"At first, this is going to look like a very typical puzzle-platformer game," Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro told me through a translator just before we dove into The Missing at PAX West 2018. "But it won't be very long before you find out there's something different about this game."
Seconds after the warning, Swery attempted to cross an ill-balanced wooden plank that tilted under the weight of The Missing's fair-haired protagonist, JJ Macfield. The plank spilled JJ against a wall of barbed wire. She lost a leg. Then Swery walked JJ into the barbed wire again. She lost her other leg. Then an arm. Swery nonchalantly had JJ gather up her own discarded body parts and use them to balance the other end of the wooden plank. This time, the plank held as JJ trundled across as little more than a torso and a head. Once JJ was on solid ground, Swery pushed a button and JJ regenerated. Hale, whole, and hearty, she moved on.
If you're familiar with the inherent surrealism of Swery's previous works, it's unlikely the previous paragraph shocked you. You probably just nodded along and said "Yep, The Missing is a Swery game." If it's not clear, that's a compliment. In an industry that embraces predictability, it's good to know there's someone out there who's saying "OK, but what if I made a game where you have to solve puzzles by voluntarily brutalizing your immortal body?"
Swery is keeping much of The Missing's story secret until it releases later this year, but we do know JJ is on a journey to find her friend (or possible lover, given the promotional images that show the couple cuddling under the stars), Emily. Emily disappeared while the pair were camping in the woods, and JJ must use her newfound immortality to navigate through a strange reality that seems normal at first, but then its true, unnerving nature unfurls.
The Missing boasts a sense of humor darker than the event horizon of a black hole, so it wasn't surprising to learn Marvel's immortal (and immoral) Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool, is a major inspiration for JJ's quick regenerative powers. Swery also mentioned being inspired by Ajin: Demi-Human, a manga and anime series about immortals fleeing government persecution.
While JJ must use her superhuman powers to occasionally flee monsters that are twisted products of her psyche (a pale, long-haired woman who walks on her hands and wields a massive butcher knife with her feet made an impression on me), she's more concerned about delving deeper into her new nightmare world by any means necessary. Your job is to help JJ think creatively—and painfully. Are thorny brambles blocking your path? Throw yourself into a nearby fire and use your blazing body as a torch to clear the obstacle. Is a ledge too high to reach? Walk into a swinging wrecking ball to break JJ's neck and literally turn her world upside-down.
I asked Swery if JJ feels pain every time she breaks or dismembers something. He assured me she does, though he was also quick to point out the team decided against making The Missing too disturbing or gory. It's a twisted title to be sure, but Swery is true to his word: It's not particularly gory. Though inspired by Deadpool, it falls way short of the movies' bloody theatrics (though I still think it'd be cool if JJ can wear a shirt celebrating Taylor Swift's' cats being "BEST FRIENDS PURR-EVER"). The Vault Boy-style visual gauge that keeps track of the broken bits and bobs in JJ's body is almost cartoonish; its presence drives home how The Missing wants to make you say "Wow, what?" a lot, but it still wants you to have a good time in the 7 to 10 hours it lasts.
The Missing is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on October 10. If you enjoy Limbo but find the concept of a shadow-boy confronting opaque, eldritch horrors too pedestrian, boy oh boy, does Swery have a game for you.
Disclosure: USgamer is part of Gamer Network, which is owned by ReedPOP, the organizers of the PAX events including PAX West.