Developer: Supergiant Games Publisher: Supergiant Games Platform(s): PS4, PC, Mac
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I am really annoyed at myself for not playing Pyre sooner, leaving it until the last embers of what had been one of the best years for games ever to try my hand at one of its most unique. Perhaps just how “out there” it seemed was one of the reasons why I held off for so long: it’s NBA Jam, but there’s also fantasy elements, massive books that control everything, and more characters to write loving fanfic about than your average visual novel.
The main hook of Pyre revolves at the “sport” at its core: the Rites. Essentially, your character, the Reader, has landed up in the Downside after falling afoul of the oppressive Commonwealth regime for reasons that are up to the player to decide. The Downside is Supergiant Games’ version of limbo; a kind of off-colour vision of the real world where the only hope lies in liberation through the Rites. Shortly after landing in the Downside, you encounter the epitome of the ragtag bunch known as The Nightwings, who take you along as their Reader: someone who can read a big book that oversees the action in the Rites. Or at least I think so – I was so wrapped up in the action itself that I forgot to even question how it all works.
The Rites themselves consist of 3V3 competition to see who can eliminate the other team’s pyre the fastest by, more or less, dunking on their sorry asses. It starts off pretty simple: pass the ball and their defence and watch as their pure sputters out of life. Only one character can be controlled at a time, which means a frenzied flurry of inputs if you’re trying to keep all your players intact. The opposing team doesn’t necessarily only have to concentrate on the attacking player and can instead pick off their teammates with aura blasts to leave them isolated. Teammates will eventually return based on their individual stats and buffs from things like talismans, but don’t be surprised to find yourself all alone with three hugely different opponents staring you down.
If Pyre is a theatrical game of arcade basketball, its cast are what keep you coming back for more. I am a sucker for a Seven Samurai-esque band of misfits and miscreants, and they’re the shining light here, each with their own quirks on and off the “court”. My favourite was Jodariel: a hulking and appropriately grumpy outcast who has been in the Downside for so long that she has sprouted horns. She can deal massive damage to an opponent’s pyre, but is also about as nimble as a fridge. Her personality, however, is what kept me playing her, even if it meant that my attachment to her as a character meant that a hard choice would become even harder, which I won’t spoil here as it’s a game-changing mechanic that’s introduced in the game’s final third.
My word limit is fast approaching, but I feel like I could talk about Pyre and its wonderful eccentricities for thousands more words. That’s ultimately the best commendation I can give it. Even if its premise is a bit bewildering and the gameplay not immediately infectious, Pyre’s beautiful game world and enchanting cast will have you writing a poem about a dog with a moustache before you know what’s happening.