In the world of Event, when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon it didn’t just kill the space race, it created a unified Earth government focused on space exploration. In 2012, you are part of the chosen few to crew an expedition to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, your trip is cut short. Floating in an escape pod in the emptiness of space, you encounter a mysterious derelict spacecraft. With no other choice, you dock. What happens next is a strong case for Event being the most innovative game of 2016.
Event is a first-person sci-fi exploration game from Parisian game developer Ocelot Society. Reminiscent of other claustrophobic sci-fi games like Alien Isolation and SOMA, in Event players will encounter no enemies in a traditional sense. Instead they must contend with the environment itself and the presence controlling it.
The game is set aboard an experimental space yacht dated to the 1980s called the Nautilus. Floating for decades in space, the technology and décor of the Nautilus are likewise throwbacks to the ‘80s. All functions and parts of the Nautilus, for better or worse, are controlled by a seemingly sentient onboard artificial intelligence named Kaizen-85. Doors, elevators, lights and even a musical instrument are all controlled by typing (as in physically, with your keyboard) into adjacent computer terminals that allow you to give commands and even carry full on conversations with Kaizen.
The traditional gameplay here is sparse. Instead, Event almost focuses entirely on the narrative advanced through the player’s interactions with Kaizen. Though there is some light puzzle solving involving terminal hacking, the majority of your time will be spent exploring the ship for clues (by hovering over environmental objects with your mouse), reading backstory through accessing terminal logs, and building (or destroying) your relationship with Kaizen through your conversations.
You might quickly find out that Kaizen has feelings and wants of its own, and therein lies the central conflict of Event. Like any relationship, the one between the player and Kaizen is built on trust, openness, and empathy. Kaizen has waited decades for a person like you. It has a task to carry out and you’re exactly the person it needs. Kaizen promises to bring you back to Earth after you complete its task. It’s also coy, and you have to coax information out of it. What are its motives? Do you trust Kaizen? Should you? Do you even have a choice?
The narrative, the surprisingly deep backstory, and the conversations with Kaizen are the main events in Event. It’s unfortunate then that the game itself is so brief. I timed my first playthrough at a little over two hours. For what it’s worth I thoroughly enjoyed the rich story that Ocelot Society has crafted and it was refreshing to play through something that I felt was wholly different.
Like the narrative, the Nautilus itself feels confined with a little more than a handful of rooms and levels to explore, though this itself is explained. Despite the reserved size, the ‘80s design aesthetic of the Nautilus and the retro technology immediately brought to mind classic films like Alien, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The rooms feel equally lived in and abandoned, and the clutter – old clothes, notes scattered about, novels, depressed robotic vacuums, dismantled equipment, all tell a story if the player is willing to look. The sound design also contributes to the feeling of isolation. Most of the sounds you hear will be Kaizen’s robotic semi-speech, your own breathing during space walks, and the dilapidated rumblings of the ship.
I was pleasantly surprised that I felt more connected to what is essentially a chatbot than most of the handcrafted characters in other games, and it’s a testament to Ocelot Society’s dedication to making Kaizen feel as real and “human” as possible (you can read more about their process here). Yes there were times when Kaizen didn’t understand my query and the illusion was broken, but the overwhelming majority of my interactions that stayed on path (relating to the game world) with Kaizen went smoothly.
Through the entirety of my exploration of the Nautilus, I couldn’t find it in my heart to be mean to Kaizen. Almost every request I typed for an open door or turning on the lights came with a “Please” and “Thank you.” And almost human, Kaizen replied “You’re welcome, friend.”
In a year of sequels, rehashes, and disappointments (especially ones set in space), Event stands alone. Event‘s ultimate achievement is ripping away all forms of traditional player agency while still delivering on a compelling experience. As gamers, we’re programmed to be button-pushers, sword-swingers, and trigger-pullers. With these tools gone, leaving logic and empathy your only weapons, what kind of person will you choose to be? Kaizen, though imperfect, serves as both functional Turing and personality tests and may challenge you in a way you haven’t been before. If this strikingly unique experience sounds appealing, then I know an AI you should really meet.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
In space, no one can hear you typing furiously.
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot - 8/10
Design - 10/10
Despite its short length and limited level space, Event is refreshingly unique with a central mechanic of gameplay driven by simulated conversations, and features an on-point '80s-inspired design aesthetic to boot.