Waking certainly had an interesting concept from when I first read about it! The description of the game got my neurons firing, but didn’t give away too much of the game concept. In short, you are a coma patient who’s locked in a dream. There you fight for your life, battling the darkness that resides in the dream and calls you to your end, to try to rise and wake yourself, and start life again. The description that really intrigued me was: “Waking is a uniquely personal journey of self-reflection and remembrance combining third person exploration and real-world meditation.” A game that uses your own journeys and meditation. Sign me up!
Starting the Game
The main menu of Waking captured me the moment I saw it. It is simple, but very effective. It shows a genderless person in a coma, lying in a hospital bed and connected up to life-maintaining machines. The music was extremely chill and wonderful to listen to, a trait that remained throughout the rest of the game. The menu options were easy to find, but still nicely out of the way, not blocking any of the beautiful imagery.
Clicking “New game” leads to a screen called “Patient Info”, that briefly explains the concept behind the game and what it’s going to do. Namely, it will ask you questions about yourself, your life, and your perceptions thereof – these answers are then used within the game. Then you have to input some personal data; things like name, height etc. That is followed by a recommendation to play the game with a gamepad rather than a mouse and keyboard, before a warning about how this game might be difficult to play for those currently suffering from a mental health issue. Considering the theme of the game, this is a good warning to have in place.
The gameplay is broadly similar to that of a “bullet hell” game. It’s all about dodging around particles to do damage to the enemies. Around you, there are various items that you can use to block the particles and launch at enemies to stun them. Once stunned, you can get up close and melee them. There are certain items that will reflect the particles back, or do additional damage too. My initial thoughts on the gameplay were “this is kinda janky on a mouse and keyboard”. I’m not going to hold that against the game (it did warn me), but I’m always a fan of using my PC peripherals and I don’t actually own a gamepad.
However, the different powers gained from the options chosen at the start of the game are interesting, and give you multiple ways to overcome the challenges. I do think it’s odd that the proper tutorial on the mechanics comes after an hour of playtime. Although the basic information given earlier certainly lets you play the game, the later additional information would have been very helpful for the first hour. It is also odd that the tutorial is “hidden”; in that you have to explore to find it. The game gives a warning – stating that you should go to that area first – but not everyone will, and not everyone will explore everything fully. I feel it would have worked better if that information was given in the first hour of play.
Why Are We Here?
From there, I headed into the game proper. It remained extremely pretty throughout, with different enemies that work in different ways, as well as a story that follows the battle of wills for your consciousness to either regain itself, or fade entirely. I did find myself getting a little lost on what I was doing from time to time though. It wasn’t always clear what my current objective was. The first proper boss I encountered was also somewhat unclear. There were a lot of particles on the screen, far less than previously encountered from other enemies, and the movements made it hard to keep track of what everything was.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience with Waking. Although I encountered a few frustrating issues, the whole basis of using the player’s own perceptions is extremely clever, the game was very pretty, and the score was amazingly good. I fully intend to keep playing it, though I think I’ll acquire a gamepad first. I give it a 4 out of 5 rating.