A known affiliate of the Dark Lord, Stephen takes only a passing interest in the affairs of mortals. A life of extreme slothfulness has fostered in him an obsession with gaming - one which he will spread to the world in a dark tide of game reviews and news blurbs.
For the past several months, I’ve found myself embroiled in games that take up quite a bit of my time: Destiny, with its constant daily questing and new content; Fallout 4, which simply demands to be binged upon; the Civilization series, where one playthrough will take at least a day. All well and good. However, I’ve recently been harboring the desire for something a bit less life-consuming, yet still as interesting as these beautiful worlds I’d been exploring and adventuring in. It was this urge that led me to a night of Steam-browsing, looking for small indie games that I could ideally work through in a night. Ultimately, my search led me to Port of Call from Underdog Games. Comprised of students from the University of Texas at Austin, Underdog was a finalist in the E3 College Game Competition with Port of Call as their submission. The game was subsequently greenlit on Steam.
Port of Call, unlike most video games, is not skill-based in any way. To my pleasant surprise, it simply tells a story in an interactive (and free-to-play) way. The tale is classic and age-old (the dead being taken to the afterlife by way of boat), but it’s executed in an extremely interesting way. The initial scene is ominous, opening on a massive circa 1920’s steamship quietly drifting through an empty sea. There is no sound beyond the lapping of waves and the whispers of shadowy figures that murmur to each other throughout the vessel.
At first, there is confusion, as your character has no idea why he is on the ship – nor why the mysterious, mustachioed captain has trapped you aboard. As I delved further into the mystery of why I was on this strange ship and met its few equally perplexing inhabitants, I began to understand that they all shared the commonality of what seemed to be a tragic death. The pursuit of the meaning behind this (and why you are here with them) is what drives your adventure.
As I moved from room to room, I investigated the belly of the ship: abstract paintings hang in odd places on the walls, and some cabins have no gravity; books float this way and that, and furniture sits on the walls. One contains a writer’s desk, with crumpled paper flung about and discarded drafts scattered about the floor of the room – in another, a child’s toy chest that is disproportionately imposing and large. All these things are symbolic to the different characters in ways that are revealed the further you delve into the story.
The abstract art style is not restricted simply to the paintings. The faces of the people you meet have scrambled features with vague lines and shapes, as if you can’t quite piece together what they actually look like. These elements combine to give a unique and interesting, almost… ethereal feel to the entire experience.
While playing through, I couldn’t help but compare the depth of story within Port of Call to the much larger games I’ve been playing, like Destiny and Fallout 4. The conclusion I’ve come to is that while a game like Port of Call can’t possibly come close to matching the sheer amount of content contained within these blockbuster games, the story (whether it be a tale of revenge, of mankind’s last stand, or of the final journey to the land beyond death) can maintain the same value and meaningfulness. In a way, it’s an extremely concise and effective method of storytelling. By combining the art of writing and dialogue with the visual art that is inherent in video gaming, media like this provides the player with a full, all-encompassing tale; Port of Call does this while still leaving itself open to interpretation.
In all, Port of Call took me about an hour to play through twice (in order to see both of the two endings) and, while brief, it had encouraged me to look at gaming in a slightly different manner. Even though there’s no leveling, crafting system, or quest log, it provided a quality adventure and combined it with an intriguing art style that, to me, created an experience comparable to reading a good short novel. I heartily encourage you to give it a playthrough, and keep an eye out for other games in the same vein.