PSX 2016 – Pyre Preview – Last Rites (PS4)
Transistor has always held a special place in my heart. I’ve got multiple art prints featuring Red and her sentient sword around my house. My phone background has framed these characters for years. I make my way through the soundtrack at least once a week. Supergiant Games does an incredible job creating games with depth, artistic merit, and beautiful soundscapes. The small team makes games that each hold a strong signature of the developer while offering completely different experiences from the others.
Pyre retains the striking art Supergiant Games is known for, and Darren Korb is once again composing the hauntingly beautiful music. If you’ve listened to the track from the reveal trailer, you’re probably already fiending for the full soundtrack to come out. In fact, let’s take a listen to that before we continue. Go ahead. Play it on repeat if you want.
Alright, I think I can go on. The demo I got to play at PSX was the early moments of the game, and gave a good impression of the kind of gameplay and story present in the campaign. Early on, the player — known as the reader due to literacy being a crime in this world– meets with three exiles who travel through a forsaken land looking to redeem themselves by taking place in competitive rites against other exiles. These rites aren’t direct combat, but rather a capture-the-flag or football type of sport where failure doesn’t mean death, and you will need to face your losses head on rather than hitting retry. It’s a brilliant way to take traditional sports and their concept of failure and combine them with an isometric game style, similar to Supergiant’s own previous games. In a game you die and hit retry. In sports, when your team loses you have to face it and move on, confronting the next competition with that loss weighing heavy on your shoulders. It’s a unique approach to a video game that is not a strictly a competitive one, and seems to work wonderfully within the narrative.
Balancing the Scales
There’s a particular balance of story about the exiles, selecting where to go on the world map in almost a D&D style adventure, certain ways giving different benefits ad story to the party. The story is told in a text based story, with certain highlighted words that give more information when the cursor is moved over them. While we’ve only seen three characters so far, Creative Director Greg Kasavin assures me that there will be more to pick up along the journey, each with their own stories and abilities within the rites.
The rites are the meat of Pyre’s gameplay, intense three-on-three competitions that land closer to the world of sports than most “kill all the bad guys” type of video games. The goal of each rite is to put out the other team’s pyre by moving an orb from the center of the arena, similar to football. The characters each have an aura that temporarily banishes opposing players that touch it. The aura can be channeled into a quick forward blast, but leaves the player open to banishment. Each character has certain abilities and downsides, like faster movement but lower damage to the pyre. I should also mention that only one character on each side can move at a time, so there’s a certain amount of tactical strategy. It’s like a bizarre, cross between Transistor, football, and chess. Trailers don’t do it justice, and the complexities really came to life once I got my hands on it.
What I wasn’t able to see was the even further depth, such as customizing your team with different characters for specific strategies and counter plays. At PSX they also announced a couch competitive mode, which essentially plays just like the campaign mode, but pits two players against each other with the potential to build out custom teams and strategies.
The most impressive thing about Supergiant is their ability to deftly blend the visuals, gameplay, narrative, and sound, each one working elegantly together to accent and uphold the others, yet each individual facet being luminous on their own. There’s a world of possibility waiting beneath the surface of Pyre, and only the Reader can unlock it when it releases in 2017.