Prominence – Preview
Prominence is a space adventure game from Digital Media Workshop, a small team based in Long Island, New York. The preview build that GamingLives was provided covered the first two acts of the game and, although not all elements were in place, it was more than enough to provide a feel for what the eventual release would be like.
The scene is set by a voiceover from a man remembering a piece of wisdom/story that his Grandfather had once taught him. It seems as though the Letarri were forced from their original home world from invading forces, although the introduction keeps it quite vague. Trying to co-exist on other populated planets seems to have failed and now, fleeing from persecution, this man was part of a vanguard sent to colonise a world – New Letarri – with the promise of a new start for millions of Letarri and a place that they could call their own. Unfortunately, it all went wrong during the flight and now something terrible has happened.
The main introduction then kicks in and it’s like something from a sci-fi TV programme with credits to the backdrop of a close-up sun going through some sort of volatile change, presumably showcasing solar prominence, a likely reason for the ‘something going wrong’ aspect of the mission. After the introductory credits finish you get into the game itself, and the room around you comes into view as if you are just recovering from sleep or unconsciousness. Set from the first-person viewpoint you can look around with your mouse, and the controls are satisfyingly responsive but not too twitchy. A reticule in the centre of the screen will change when you mouse over something of interest – an eye will provide a description whereas a hand means that you can interact with the object, and a magnifying glass lets you know that you can inspect it a little closer.
The room in which you start is dim, the three doors that are present are either locked or jammed, and so your first order of business is to try and leave the room. Moving around is achieved by mousing over certain points to turn the reticule into an arrow and, unlike most games, when you move, the transition piece is seemingly pre-rendered, so the camera fixes itself to a set position and the transition animation rolls. Although the transition pieces are nice, they do take a couple of seconds each time, so if you end up walking back and forth over the same areas it could become tiresome, especially for those players who would prefer to instantly jump to the next playable section. They can, however, be turned off completely in the game options or by holding down CTRL when clicking to move.
Prominence is, in many ways, an old-school point-and-click adventure highly reminiscent of Myst or Riven. It is a game of puzzles and logical thinking all wrapped tightly into an overarching story that reveals the fate of the mission to New Letarri. You will find yourself scouring over every pixel of each screen to find things to interact with, pick up, or get clues from. There is little in the way of suggestion, particularly in the beginning, and so it can be a tough initiation into the universe of Prominence.
Although Digital Media Workshop provided a most excellent walkthrough, I was determined to play Prominence for myself as I didn’t want to be exposed solely to elements of their choosing. I won’t lie though, on more than one occasion I found myself having to return to the walkthrough guide for a nudge in the right direction. When I mentioned old school above I meant it; there is no ‘Batman mode’ vision that highlights everything of interest – even when hovering over objects the reticule is your only clue; there are no borders, highlights, or colour changes to indicate that you’ve moved over something interactive.
The clues themselves are also subtle. There was a reflective plate held in place; I saw the text but I didn’t see the clue, and it was only from a nudge in the walkthrough that I realised that the clasps were separate items I could interact with to free the plate. Childhood memories of trying every item in my inventory with everything else in my inventory came flooding back. Prominence deeply roots itself in the traditional point-and-click era of the mid-to-late nineties, and that is no bad thing, but that isn’t to say Prominence belongs in the ’90s – absolutely not. Digital Media Workshop haven’t rested on their laurels and have expanded upon the traditional elements of gameplay. By picking up a laptop-type computer you are able to connect to certain consoles which launches text-command based puzzles and challenges. There is also a holographic interface, although that is only teased during the demo so I was not able to see how that fully develops.
For the first time in a very long while, I found myself scrabbling for paper on which to write codes, information of interest, etc. Prominence keeps it very traditional in that respect – there are no self-updating codex entries, no convenient portable note-making devices; it puts everything into the hands of the player. It’s refreshing not to be spoon-fed the game in piecemeal, but it can also get frustrating when you can’t seem to crack the next hurdle, yet that’s half the fun with these types of games. It isn’t as though puzzles are thrown at the player either, they are constant but they are meaningful; solving each puzzle brings you a little closer to revealing the story, be it getting through a door into a new area or providing power to consoles that have diary extracts. Nothing is needlessly added; each puzzle fits and it isn’t linear, as each problem presented may not be resolvable immediately and require an event further down the line to trigger a solution.
The preview build had no interaction with any other people; the ship was abandoned, or worse, so it remains to be seen if there is anyone left aboard in the final game. You will encounter the ship’s mainframe, ANNIE, and that does present interactions so that you are not completely alone throughout the entire adventure. There are also many audio clips and emails from various crew members that build up the back-story to the game.
Without a buddy or background chatter, it falls to the audio to fill the void, and the soundtrack to the game is both ethereal and subtle. The main menu is a vocal score reminiscent of Halo, but in-game the soundtrack is fairly sparse, coming in at certain points with an eerie yet poignant feeling. When you initially enter the game, the soundtrack has a beat not too dissimilar to a heartbeat with tweaked instrumental ambience layered over the top. Machines and the day to day noise of a starship make up the bulk of the background noises as you progress through the game. This is definitely a case of less is more, and the lack of audio helps heighten the feeling of being alone in a strange vessel you recall nothing of.
The graphics are well done, lighting is well portrayed – especially in dimly lit areas – and in well lit areas there are detailed reflections on shiny surfaces. The overall look and feel is very sterile, like a cross between Mass Effect and Portal 2; it always amazes me how spaceships never have any dust, scuffs or stains! Text is clear, well-sized, and a welcome sight. Attention to detail is most prevalent in colourful control panels or information displays which wouldn’t seem out of place in a Star Trek episode. Arguably, at times it looks like the ship has never had any occupants at all; everything tends to be neatly placed but you’ll likely be too wrapped up in solving the next puzzle to worry about the spartan decor. This could be fallout from being a preview build, however, as Digital Media Workshop did mention that there are some elements still to be added before the final release, such as subtitles, additional audio and other details.
During my playthrough I encountered no bugs or glitches, although improvements could be made to the inventory screen, even if it were just a friendly tooltip to advise how to select items from the inventory. Usually I could just scroll my mouse-wheel to go through my items rather than having to right-click to go into the inventory UI, but at one point you have to and it took me a little while to work out how to select items from the UI. Now that I know it seems logical, but I spent around three minutes trying to get the holographic connector to work with my inventory item. Apart from what might well be a slightly dull-witted moment by myself with the inventory, everything is pretty self-evident thanks to the use of the reticule icons.
Prominence looks to be an atmospheric and engaging title for fans of traditional first-person adventure games such as Myst. From just the two acts I played through there are interesting twists and revelations to the story, something I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning whilst writing up this preview. I’d recommend anyone who likes a bit of a mental challenge or hungers for some old-school notepad scribblings to give this more than a cursory glance. It is not a game to be rushed through because, unless you take the time to savour the atmosphere, consider the logs, audio snippets and work through the puzzles yourself, then a lot of the game will pass you by and that would be a great shame. Prominence is an excellent example of what a small but dedicated developer can produce, and I thoroughly look forward to its final release, and so should you.
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