INSOMNIA: The Ark – Space Classism For The Whole Family
Russian indie developers Studio Mono's INSOMNIA: The Ark looks to be quite interesting, if they smoothen it out a bit.
After being in the works for eight years, INSOMNIA: The Ark is coming out later this year. It’s a sci-fi RPG set in a massive space complex filled with all kinds of friends and foes you’ll meet on your journey to discover the secrets of a long-gone civilization. You start off as an army errand jockey, just going from place to place cleaning up the messes that other people made all the while building your own opinion on the world as the world shapes its opinion of you.
A visually cool mix between old-school and new-school sci-fi, INSOMNIA: The Ark’s world is built up a lot more like a pen-and-paper RPG than one might expect. Instead of being open world, you can travel from location to location via the map that shows when you exit an area, but on the way, you can be hit with any type of encounter, be it a friendly merchant or rowdy travellers. This helps diversify the type of content that could be found at the same spot, but it makes the different places feel a lot less connected to each other.
When you’re walking around, or even when you’re selecting areas on the travel map, the game never puts a marker on where you have to go. Even if you’re in the same area, it won’t put special markers telling you which person to talk to. There’s a marker on everyone’s head that you can talk to, no matter how important and no matter if you’ve talked to them yet or not.
The most it does to tell you where to go is highlight the important parts of the log, but it’ll never go as far as to say where that area is. You either already have to know that or go have a look where it could be. It’s definitely refreshing to take a step back away from the in-game satnav that so many 3D games nowadays are fond of.
The combat in the game is quite punishing, but not absurdly so. Essentially, you’re not any less human than your enemies are and you can take roughly the same amount of hits they can (of course, this depends on upgrades and armour, but when you start, it’s the case). The only difference is that you’re often on your own against a group, moving around cover before they destroy it and then you. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it works pretty well.
Fighting with ranged weapons is fairly straightforward, but melee, especially if you’re fighting with your fists, is where it gets harder again. If you just strike while facing your enemy, they almost always block the attack. It’s much smarter to hold right click (the same button you’d use to aim your gun), then once your enemy decides to attack you and is thrown back, you punch them, then wait for the next strike. It’s a fairly straightforward procedure but might not be what would immediately come to mind.
The game also chooses not to use certain trends like instant health boosts and instant reloads, instead preferring to make these cancel-able actions that take a certain amount of time. You can keep walking and switching between crouching and standing in this time, but rolling or any other combat action will cancel the reload or the stim injection.
If a character doesn’t see you, you can sneak up and execute them. This is probably the most efficient way of fighting, as it makes the most noise, but it’s also the hardest one to do as a lot of enemies are prepared or even come running towards you, and they don’t often turn away. That only works if a large group of both allies and enemies is involved.
When you’re fighting in an area, you’ll notice some characters have yellow names and some have red, as well as some of them having different symbols, too. The symbol tells you what type of weaponry they use, and yellow names generally mean that they don’t see you as a threat to be attacked, whether that means they see you as an ally is a different question, although they will defend themselves if your enemies get too close to them. Red names mean they see you as an enemy, but that can also mean that they cower in fear and hope to not die.
This duality has a lot to do with the way INSOMNIA: The Ark is built, as depending on which class you chose at the beginning, you have different abilities and also had a different upbringing. You can use this to your advantage, or it can lead to enemies hating you. It all comes down to how you talk to which people, what you mention to whom. Exiled people who look down on the army might be glad to know that you grew up in the slums, too, but they might also see you as a traitor. The game plays with the line of morality quite well.
INSOMNIA: The Ark is going to be quite the game when the last kinks are ironed out. The world and its characters form the perfect backdrop for the game, and the dialogue trees really help flesh them out. By using somewhat random encounters that can be left at any time while travelling from place to place instead of leaving the whole world open, it doesn’t run the risk of feeling empty, either.