Every week for 12 weeks, we will be highlighting and reviewing one standout indie game that was released in 2020 that you’re likely to have missed. So please, come with us on this trip through wonderful worlds, heartfelt tales and mysteries simply begging to be solved.
2020 Indie Spotlight – Promesa
When we’re young, the stories told by our elders feel mundane, boring. They’ll often talk wistfully of times before you were even born, concerning people you’ve never met in places you’ve never been. But as we get older, and we begin living through and reminiscing on our own experiences, these feelings toward stories of old morph into curiosity and wonder. Becoming older means recognising our own mortality. It dawns on us that at the end of the day, despite all the wealth we might’ve built and the trinkets we’ve acquired, at the end of the day, our memories are really all that we have.
Promesa is a mechanically simple game. I’m not going to front, this is a straight-up walk around and soak in the atmosphere game; a very, very slow one at that. That pace is deliberate – though if you were frustrated by the speed at which you traverse Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, for example, this probably isn’t the experience for you. If however, you’re more than happy to put aside a little under an hour to think about the unfolding story in front of you, to feel what this experience is offering in your bones, Promesa may just bring a tear to your eye.
Playing out over a collection of tiny vignette spaces, Promesa simply asks that you read, listen, and walk. Each section is a small, handcrafted area designed for you to stroll through, taking in the sights and sounds. A few of these sections use perspective, smash cuts and player control intelligently – only ever enough to be clever, not too much to overdo it. Between each of these is a quote, contextualising your journey.
There is no doubt that this story is extremely personal – yet at the same time, it holds a universal quality. The game’s description talks of the main developer being inspired from conversations with their grandfather. Conjuring up images of a long life lived, we’re granted private access to dive into a very personal interpretation of those memories, dreams and regrets first hand.
The settings presented in each vignette do an incredible job conveying deep emotion, and with this context in mind, you can feel the stories being told through sheer presence in the space alone. Each quote steers your understanding ever so slightly, like a guiding hand leading you through the streets of distant memory.
The lack of much interactivity with your environment leads some to ask the question – why is this even a game? Why not a documentary, an animated sequence, a book or a poem?
Interactivity isn’t just the ways in which you engage with a space – it is the fact that you can choose how you do so. Even in a game where all you can do is walk from A to B, the very act of pushing forward makes the player an active participant – and gives the player the choice to, also, not.
One particular space had me walk up a set of stairs and into a living room, with the “goal” to walk down the hall and into the bedroom. In the living room sat an old computer, stacks of books and several photographs. Off to the side and completely avoidable was the kitchen, appliances and utensils littering the benchtop.
The sense of nostalgia washing over me in that moment was palpable. Though the layout was completely different, I was reminded of my Grandma’s kitchen from when I was a kid. The cupboards above the sink with the glass doors, where the cups & mugs sat neatly out of reach from my little fingers. The FM radio softly broadcasting old tunes. My Grandma sitting at the end of the kitchen table, rugged up in her thick dressing gown, cuppa in hand.
My Grandma passed away several years ago now. The house has since been moved into by younger family members; renovations, redecorations and new furniture adorn its rickety walls and high-ceiling rooms.
By choosing to engage with this space, instead of simply being shown, I forged a stronger connection to it. Being reminded of what it was like to exist in that space pulled on deeply buried emotion in a way that even seeing an actual photo of that space as it stands now simply couldn’t.
I feel like we all fear death, to one degree or another. Though for some, I suspect it’s not necessarily the actual dying part that is the worst of it – more, the ancillary aspects. Experiences we never found the time for. Goals and achievements left unfinished. Leaving behind others we deeply care about. It is here I found the most impact with Promesa; reflecting on this universal truth.
A deeply held insecurity of mine, long before losing control of bodily functions, is losing control of my mind. In some ways, losing some knowledge, some memory of negative experiences, even some sense of the world and how it works, doesn’t necessarily feel all that bad. But to me, who we become, who we are down to our very core, is built on a foundation of our experience. I would be happy to lose my house and car, my job and lifestyle, even my life by comparison; but to lose the memories I’ve built with the love of my life over the past decade? A more cruel torture could not be imagined.
Promesa grapples with the complications of memory. As our minds age, they are susceptible to failure, fallible by design. Memories of our existence bind us to this world and those around us. Sometimes, all we have are the stories we tell, to those that will listen.
Promesa was reviewed on PC with a code kindly provided by Julián Palacios Gechtman