Space is a haunting frontier. For better or worse, it represents a large area that humans have visited but not inhabited yet. Thus, I find myself fascinated with science fiction that takes place in space because so much of it focuses on what the heck we’d do out there, given the opportunity. Enter Event, which is another entry to ask the question, “What would humanity make of space travel?” And the answer seems to be: “Question its very fabric.”
Told through text and a handful of choices a lá Firewatch, you carve an identity for yourself in the opening minutes, though the guiding narrative remains the same regardless. Interaction in Event is unlike anything else I’ve played. The mouse is the only tool for movement, utilizing the left button to move forward and the right to move backward. You can’t pick up, switch, or handle objects at all. The keyboard’s only purpose is to interact with computer terminals, specially to chat with Kaizen, an on-board AI you meet after the opening tale.
Kaizen is largely the focus of this 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired story. They are an AI, touted to be able to generate over 2 million lines of text in response to your questions and queries. Indeed, they certainly evoke a remarkable amount of depth. During your first interactions, they treat you cautiously like an interloper, and that is essentially what you are – having survived an event on another spacecraft, your escape pod finds its way to Kaizen’s ship, an 80’s retro-futuristic holdover from an alternate timeline where people have been surviving in space for decades now. However, through polite speech and a modicum of complacency, Kaizen will even call you, “friend.”
But it’s fun arguing with them. In a very early scene, when you attempt to leave an introductory room, they close the door on you, asking you to listen to their request first. They’d like you to destroy the Singularity Drive on the ship. Your attempt to do so, or at the very least investigate, is the driving force behind the two or three hours you’ll spend working your way to the end. However, the request comes at a shock. You could just comply in one breath, and Kaizen will open the door.
Or you could try to discuss the merits of what they’re asking you, and witness them become irate. Blinking the screen and garbling the text for a moment, Kaizen will denigrate you and your corporeal form, making light of your mortality to suggest death is the only alternative to agreement. In a way, they remind me of GLaDOS from the Portal series in that you’re exploring an environment bereft of other people, and so your worst enemy, in essence, becomes your only friend. Yet Event provides you more opportunities to build the relationship. It’s not one-sided.
Exploring the ship can be similarly creepy. After leaving the aforementioned room, you enter a dilapidated hallway just as debris starts hitting the vessel and rocking everything back and forth. Rooms have an untouched feel about them, and you occasionally glimpse the amount of dust floating through the air. As a response to one particular act of defiance, a Kaizen terminal’s monitor will crack and spark at you. The funky aspects of the décor tend to clash against the ongoing sense of dread. This is well-exemplified when you are eventually thrown out into the cold and unforgiving area outside the comforts of an airlock, frantically finding a way back in…which is also through Kaizen’s magnanimity.
Although Event is good at building environment, there are aspects of the experience that prevent complete immersion. First, Kaizen themselves: although I am impressed and amused with their level of dialogue, there are definitely moments when they don’t have a direct response to what you’ve typed. While I kowtow to the fact that I don’t expect them to pass the Turing test completely, it can be frustrating when you’re asking them to elaborate on something previously mentioned, and they just talk about something completely irrelevant or utter a joke. Sometimes, they are purposely changing the subject, especially if you try hard to dive into the history of the spacecraft you’re searching, but other times, it’s apparent Kaizen wasn’t programmed to respond to everything.
The other issue is, honestly, the length of the experience. I’m really among the last reviewers to harp on playtime length, but I feel like Event is owed more time for players to dig and build a relationship both with new frenemy, Kaizen, and their environment. While I don’t expect a 13-chapter tale like Dead Space’s tour of the USS Ishimura, a handful more rooms and floors as evidence of the people who lived with a tumultuous AI would’ve gone a long way towards immersion. Though I wouldn’t label the experience as horror, there are horror genre qualities to the story that are worth expanding as well.
Still, it certainly was an interesting and unique time spent, and it was one worth repeating. For one, it’s interesting taking learned information into your next play through to see what you can goad out of Kaizen. Witnessing how their personality changes in response to your behavior and your words is definitely a source of amusement. The multiple endings are also well-done, though even the “best” one is bittersweet. There’s also a thought-provoking (i.e. not facile) take on class and classism in our space travel future that I’d be curious to see fleshed out further.
Visually, the experience looks very good, selling the whole spaceship aesthetic well. It’s more appealing what the developers have done with music. Rather than utilize a real soundtrack, a number of interactions and mechanical sounds have a musicality to them that’s unexpected and playful. Event also utilizes an original song to round out the story in a nostalgic, romantic way.
I’d be remiss, though, not to mention that performance is an issue but not a deal-breaker. Load times are notably long, to the point of your computer thinking the executable is hanging, but they are infrequent enough. More often, however, the computer will hang on getting Kaizen to generate a response. It seems if you say certain things, it’s more taxing for the engine driving Kaizen’s dialogue. Although I wouldn’t pass on Event for any of this, it would be helpful if the developers patched in some better optimization.
Event was based off a student project, and sometimes, its roots as such are laid bare. But overall, I’m impressed with how the concept was fleshed out. Like other unique experiences, I hope other developers learn from its brushes with ingenuity. I’m also excited about some of the ethical discussions it could spark. It’s definitely worth a spin in zero-gravity to check this one out.