REVIEW – AVICII: Invector

Hugely addictive and invigorating, yet tinged with a sadness at the loss that brought this game to fruition.

It’s always a good sign when you have to physically tear yourself away from a game in order to write a review on it. In fact, when I went to play it earlier in order to capture some extra screenshots for this article, I ended up playing for a good hour longer than I intended.

There was a time when the very mention of Avicii (aka Tim Bergling) was enough to make me roll my eyes and groan, thanks to a flatmate loving Levels so much that he played it on a loop for months, at full volume, with only Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO as an occasional reprieve. (I was in the room next door, so I almost went insane). I can’t say that I’ve developed any love for that particular track in the years since, but I am glad that Hey Brother brought me back into the fold.

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The triangular tunnel, this one in the forest world

My Spotify Wrapped for 2019 put Avicii at the number two spot on my list of most-streamed artists this year, and I’m pretty pleased with that. I already listened to him regularly, but playing Invector at EGX back in October had me ditching my usual playlists, and exclusively streaming my favourite tracks on my walks to the supermarket or on quiet afternoons.

I do want to avoid dwelling on the sad side of things, but it’s precisely the infectious feel-good vibes of Bergling’s music that makes the fact that Invector is a posthumous tribute all the more tragic. If there’s one thing this game does, and it does so many things so incredibly well, it’s that it illustrates just what a talent Berling possessed, and that the world is that much darker with him gone.

Dark, the game itself, certainly is not. Invector’s visuals are vivid and varied, with the songs divided into groups of four to five tracks, set in different environments, such as a forest or a valley. Players must clear each song in an environment to progress to the next one, with the final three tracks that take place in the ‘oblivion’ world unlocked upon completion of the game.

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In the city world, during free flight

Gameplay puts a nice spin onto what is a relatively simplistic formula. Instead of the usual ‘press the buttons when prompted as they reach the bottom of the track’ shtick, Invector puts players in the shoes of a spunky young woman piloting a small spacecraft flown over the button prompts, which vary dependent on difficulty level – easy had only L1, X and square, medium and hard introduced circle and triangle respectively. Additionally, players can move the ship side-to-side with the D-pad/thumbstick and – our personal favourite – shake the controller to activate a boost (this can be disabled, in which case L2/R2 can be used).

The difficulty curve is not to be taken lightly, as many of us discovered while playing the demo. I, like most seasoned rhythm game players, decided to jump in on the medium difficulty, because easy tends to be too little of a challenge. Within twenty seconds I had bailed because holy moly is it hard, at least in comparison to many of its peers. Even easy mode presents a meaty challenge, especially towards the end of the game. It really is a game where you have to start at the beginning and work your way up and whilst it can be unforgiving, it’s not unreasonable. Each song must be learned and practiced in order to be perfected, and the satisfaction of achieving a better score or getting a higher perfect streak is a hugely addictive reward.

Every song’s track is split into three sections: a flat track familiar to anyone who’s played Tap Tap Revenge or Guitar Hero, off-track segments where the ship can be flown freely into glowing orbs and a triangular tunnel. This tunnel is where things get funky; the directional prompts cause the ship to move onto the adjacent wall and the whole tunnel to roll with it. At speed, this effect is spectacular (if a little disorientating at times). It’s highly reminiscent of games such as WipeOut.

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Boosting doubles the score multiplier.

The similarity with WipeOut doesn’t end there though. Invector requires the same zen-like level of focus, where some parts of the brain have to be almost switched off entirely in order to not get overwhelmed (which is very easy, especially on the higher difficulties). The track and tunnel twist and turn, there are ‘jumps’ and the ship can crash into obstacles during the free-flight segments. With the boost active, things speed up even more, making some sections hair-raisingly fast.

At the end of each song the player is awarded a grade, in this case between S+ and F, and a percentage completion, with 75% being the minimum requirement to clear a song. Player scores are also ranked on a global leaderboard; I managed to make second place on two songs, so I’ll probably frame those screenshots for posterity. (Can I put that on my CV?)

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Second! (I’ve peaked, it’s all downhill from here)

Invector has something that so many games nowadays don’t: split-screen local multiplayer! Up to four people can cram onto the couch and play; Tim and I played it together and found it worked without any issue, although with both of us used to playing solo with headphones we found it a little trickier than single-player. Unlike single-player there is a ‘beginner’ difficulty which I think is fantastic: it allows players new to the game, or even the genre, to join in right away without being at too much of a disadvantage.

Honestly, we have virtually nothing negative to say about this game, and anything that’s not glowing praise comes down to minor gripes. My own annoyances boil down to slight accessibility issues: there is no ability to increase the opacity of the tunnel’s walls, or turn down the vividness/brightness of the background. This brightness can make it very difficult at times to see what’s coming next or to differentiate between the pink and red pickups (the shades are just a little too close to one another).

AVICII: Invector is not flawless, but its flaws are so minor that it might as well be. OK, some of the sequences seem impossible for anyone without freakishly fast reflexes, but there’s virtually nothing that can’t be achieved with simple diligence. The game is testing in the best possible way. It won’t induce a ragequit but instead spur the player on to try again, just one more time, one more go and you’ll smash that one section you’re struggling with.

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Needless to say, I missed that left turn.

Perhaps there is something to be found there between the lines, something deep and metaphorical about not giving up even when the challenge seems impossible. I choose to believe that’s true, and take that on board as something to bring out on my darkest days. I mean, hey: if I can manage to get 100% on that one song that’s kicking my ass, I can get through this rough patch, right?

Instead of ending on a joke or quip, I’ll end with a plea: if you are struggling with your mental health in any way, then please, please reach out and talk to somebody you trust. The world has lost a beautiful and artistic soul with Tim Bergling, let it not lose another one with yours.

AVICII: Invector is out now on Steam, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with all royalties being donated to the Tim Bergling Foundation.

EGX Rezzed 2019 – Highlights

Trying to pick just a few of the amazing games we played at this year’s Rezzed show was difficult, but we managed to narrow it down in the end!

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Very few things in life can be approached with sky-high expectations and have them be met, every time. Rezzed is one of the few exceptions, with wonderful content always bursting from every corner. The show floor this year was stunning, and overflowing with choice. Narrowing our experience down into a list of eight was always going to be tricky, and we wish we could just put ‘ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING, OMG’ as the main body of this post, but we’re all about Proper Journalism here. So, keeping in mind that we couldn’t give the fudge stand its own entry as it wasn’t a game, here are our top picks from Rezzed 2019.

  1. Close to the Sun

Set in an alternate-history timeline, one in which Nikola Tesla pioneered electricity and its technology, Close to the Sun takes place aboard the Helios. The jewel in Tesla’s crown, a shining monument to scientific progress, this colossal ship is home to the world’s best and brightest scientific minds immersing themselves in their ungoverned research.

Arriving aboard the giant vessel in search of your sister, you are quick to discover that something has gone horribly wrong. Darkened and deserted, the rooms and corridors of the ship are blood-splattered. You quickly discover that it’s going to take all of your wits, and your ability to sprint, to escape the ship with your life. It’s tight and tense, with impeccable sound design and a gobsmacking sense of scale. This game is a must for horror fans.

  1. Eastward

Both of us were pinning a lot of hope on this game, and we’re happy to report that it more than lived up to our expectations. A truly beautiful pixel-art RPG, with gameplay deeply reminiscent of old-school Zelda, Eastward left us wowed with its utterly gorgeous visuals and music. The devil is in the fine and characterful details, from the cat snoozing on one of the roofs in town, to protanonist John’s habits of stuffing his hands into his pockets.

However secretive developer Pixpil may have been about this project, it’s clear that this is a creation with a lot of love behind it. The world is deeply colourful and beautifully crafted, populated by strange monsters and strange people alike. We’re definitely going to be hanging on for every reveal and announcement in eager anticipation for its release.

  1. Heaven’s Vault

This entry will be brief, because we’ve been lucky enough to secure a couple of review copies ahead of the game’s release on April 16th.

I will say that I have had the pleasure of watching this game grow from the demo first debuted at Rezzed 2018, to the finished title I have currently downloaded to my PS4. It’s like watching a bud grow into a dazzling blossom, and we’re excited to share our review of this title in due course. Suffice it to say that’s it’s as beautiful as it is unique, with its blend of 2D and 3D visuals, carefully measured pace and intriguing plot.

  1. The Breakfast Club!

We always knew this game was going to be insane, but it definitely exceeded our expectations of just how insane.

I described The Breakfast Club as the ‘Dark Souls of breakfast simulators’ and I was 100% on the money. The goals are simple: make buttered toast or grill some burgers and hot dogs. Achieving those goals, however, are not, although this game has the advantage of allowing you to blame everyone else for your failures, so there’s that. I don’t think either of us had ever really considered the complexities of sausage physics before now, but I think we mastered it considering we won the level and won a tiny frying pan. Packed full of puns and pure silliness, this game is an absolute delight for fans of zany couch co-op fun.

  1. Terrorbane: 100% Bug Free

We do love a bit of satire and meta-humour, and Terrorbane delivers that in spades in this delightfully tongue-in-cheek love letter to games development, and the medium in general. Packed full of references and shout-outs, this game is equal parts bonkers, charming and hilarious.

As a playtester tackling a game built by the world’s ‘best’ developer, you have to navigate through his broken mess of an RPG in order to pick out the errors that are absolutely Not His Fault. These include anything from cows making a noise closer to electrical interference than a moo, to a crate of pears joining your party (although it did prove itself in battle, so you go pear crate!). Some bugs are just funny, others can be exploited to complete puzzles. If the short demo has us cracking up as much as it did then we cannot wait for what the rest of the game has in store for us!

  1. The Meridian Line

You know your game is freaking awesome when you require people to press an actual ‘doors open/close’ button from the London Underground to start your demo, after providing them with a ‘ticket’ to ride (well, we thought it was cool so SHUT UP). 

The Meridian Line is the urbex thriller on the Not Tube that we didn’t know we needed. Set well after operational hours on an underground automated transport network, you’ve broken in to search for your missing brother. The atmosphere is oppressive, an expertly-crafted combination of comforting familiarity and growing unease. The focus here is on tension, and the impeccable sound design delivers this in spades, helping you understand that you are certainly not alone down there. Prepare to be plunged into darkness, to pick locks and hack computers, and contend with the network itself as you unravel the secrets the silent tunnels are hiding.

  1. RAD

Tim’s description of DoubleFine’s RAD was something along the lines of ‘Diablo meets Fallout, but neon’, which is an apt summary. Choosing one of a roster of characters wielding various weapons, players traverse the irradiated wastes of the procedurally generated Fallow, encountering and slaughtering hosts of strange monsters in a bid to revive the land. Grass and flowers spring up beneath the player-character’s feet as they breathe new life into the barren wasteland – this also acted as a useful breadcrumb trail when navigating a dungeon, as it turned out.

Our favourite moments came when we found we could use the exposure to radiation to our advantage and mutate, which led to one character spawning eggs from their back that hatched into little decoys for instance. It was next to impossible for us to tear ourselves away from the demo, the addictive soundtrack and undeniably fun gameplay gluing us to our seats and leaving us wanting just one more go. I can absolutely see myself booting this up to play, only to realise that I’m still on my sofa in my PJs and several days have passed.

  1. Metamorphosis

Of all the things I never thought I would actively enjoy, playing an insect was definitely very high on that list. And yet, the pure joy I felt from playing Metamorphosis, a game inspired by the Franz Kafka novella of the same name, was so unbridled I fear it’ll mar my view of platformers for the rest of my days!

Players assume the role of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes one morning to discover he’s been transformed into a giant insect overnight and must adjust to his new existence. In-game, this means leaping through beautiful hand-painted environments that range from the straightforward to the more abstract. Being an insect makes the first-person platforming so much more enjoyable than in almost any other game; a bug can crawl up the side of an object, so no more pixel-precision is necessary! With its source material being so famous, and open to huge amounts of interpretation, we are so looking forward to delving into the full game and exploring everything Gregor’s new perspective has to offer.

Mieke’s Honourable Mention: The Collage Atlas

In a world of fast-paced action and blood-and-guts combat, it’s always a joy to come across something serene. It’s my best friend I have to thank for bringing my attention to this game, although it definitely would’ve piqued my interest regardless of her input.

Drawn entirely in pen and ink, The Collage Atlas is an utterly breathtaking trip through a world that looks like it has sprung from the pages of a sketchbook (which, essentially, it has). As the player travels forwards, the world before them gently blooms into existence in a way reminiscent of how memories fade in and out of consciousness. It’s entirely up to the player as to how they discover the narrative and its many branches and secret areas waiting to be unlocked. It’s a game that invokes mindfulness and self-reflection which, in such times of turmoil, can’t be a bad thing can it?

Tim’s Honourable Mention: Pacer

As a huge WipeOut fan, Tim was instantly drawn to this when he first laid eyes on the stand – it did help it was probably the loudest booth in the room. Previously known as Formula Fusion, this is a anti-gravity combat racer that ‘pays homage to the old’ with a contemporary twist.

Exactly what he wants from a current-gen iteration of WipeOut, Tim’s sweaty palms and racing heart at the end of a race is an indication of how good an experience Pacer is. Crafted by a team clearly holding their inspiration in deep reverence, this lightening-paced racer captures the ‘flow-state’ required to ace a track perfectly. Tim found every track he played to be a joy, with the option to customise his ship’s stats and appearance being something he’s personally craved from WipeOut as a franchise. It’s fast, it’s frenetic and despite finding the weapons feeling a little ineffective, Tim loved every second of it, evident by the colossal grin on his face at the end.

Phew! Done! This was an incredibly difficult list to write, not just because we hate excluding anyone, but also because we didn’t play anything unworthy of an entry here. We managed to get through the vast majority of the games we wanted to play, and we weren’t disappointed by a single one. It’s always an incredible experience to walk around the show floor and take in the variety of what’s on offer, which is why Rezzed is hands-down my favourite event. and that’s not just because it’s an excuse to spend all my money on delicious fudge.