Reviewing Vidar has been a reflective experience for me. It’s a game that has grown with IndieHangover, and to see it near fruition is a wonderful feeling. We covered it’s initial showing at the 2014 Boston FIG, updated our readers about it as it grew, and checked back in with developer Dean Razavi at PAXEast as the game neared it’s testing phase. However, I have avoided playing any alpha or beta versions of the game. I wanted to experience Vidar in as complete a form as possible.
Now that I have played through the game in its Early Access, feature complete, form, I can safely say that Vidar does what it promised to do 3 years ago: It is a game in which you are dropped into the middle of an intricate web of relationships and given the chance to make the best of a horrible situation. In Vidar, every choice you make has incredible weight, because, in this town, it very well may be a life-or-death decision.
This feeling of the importance of the choices you’re making really hits you as a player of Vidar on the third day. Day one and two serve as a sort of tutorial; you’re introduced to some important players in town, (hopefully) given some of your most important tools, and made aware of the curse of Vidar: A beast stalks and kills one person every night. One random person, and nobody is safe.
I’m stressing those two words because they are the core of what make Vidar so engaging, at times, so infuriating and so very interesting every time you play it. You can’t take anything for granted in Vidar.
Just finished collecting those ten mushrooms for the doctor? Sorry, He’s Dead.
Figured out where that grave is? Sorry, the old lady who helps you talk to the dead just died herself, meaning you can’t talk to that ghost you need to talk to.
Wanted to get an essential item? Sorry, person who gives it to you is dead.
This would be an interesting mechanic in any game, but Vidar goes one step further by putting just about everything you do that affects the world on a time limit. Nearly all of the tasks and quest you need to accomplish in the game take place inside a number of caves. However you only have a certain amount of time, around 10 minutes, to act in the cave before night falls and you must return to town, only to be informed of that night’s victim.
It’s tense, It’s terrifying, and it’s terrifically fun.
Some will no doubt hate the randomness of the events, or feel the wind ripped out of their sails when the last step of a quest is foiled by the Beast’s actions. However, that’s the point of Vidar: You’re not in control, you’re just trying to do as much good as you can in the face of a terrible disaster. You can’t save everyone, but you might be able to save someone.
One Note: We should say that Vidar does provide alternate ways to accomplish quest and get items should the quest or item giver meet a premature end at the hands of the beast. These ways are usually MUCH harder and more difficult, but they do exist.
Aesthetically, Vidar is superb. There’s a nostalgic consistency throughout the game, from the gorgeous pixel sprites, to the haunting music, to the wonderful environments that makes the world feel like something you explored in a game you played growing up, yet at the same time entirely fresh and new.
I was actually surprised at how expressive and emotive some of the characters ended up being. Simple movements, expressions, and even some emotion-filled pauses added a lot of life to the residents of Vidar, something that I haven’t seen in many games of the same artistic style.
The caves had enough graphical variety that they didn’t get too old, though there is, by design, quite a bit of retreading old ground. You’ll get access to new tools as you progress, and have to revisit old parts of the caves in Vidar on occasion to complete quests. While the environments are very well done, there’s only so much variety that can be achieved with a cave.
However, where Vidar makes up for this in the puzzles that take place inside these caves. If I have any complaints about the visual similarities of the four cave environments, they are easily dispelled by just how many different puzzles there are to figure out, and the variety of forms these puzzles take.
One day, you’ll be sliding on ice, bracing against rocks to redirect yourself. The next, it will be a puzzle involving switches and levers. Then, you’ll have to trap wolves. Another day, you’ll be grappling from post to post avoiding ice-cold water. The variety of the puzzles in Vidar is only enhanced by the temporary nature of many quests and objectives (due to everyone’s impending mortality). Having so many quests to accomplish, in such a short amount of time, before the random hand of The Beast smites the quest giver is an incredibly tense experience that I absolutely adored, and with Vidar’s inherent randomness, it has incredible replay value.
As Vidar enter’s early access, there is one other thing I’d like to mention as part of this review. I experienced a number of game breaking bugs during my playthroughs of Vidar in preparation for this review. The first was an issue causing Erik to return from the grave and give me another chance at his puzzle. The second was a glitch between patches that caused a save file to be corrupted. Both of these issue were fixed with lightning speed by Dean Razavi (in Patch and respectively), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t issue the caveat that this is Early Access, and there are still some issues being resolved in the game. Due to the random nature of Vidar, in my case this has meant a host of stories left unfinished. However, this did have a silver lining, as it gave me the chance to see things unfold in a myriad of different ways during my first week or so in the town of Vidar.
Vidar is a game that puts you in the role of a volunteer hero in a terrible situation. The fact that you cannot save everyone make saving anyone all the more meaningful. While some might balk at the randomness of the deaths, it’s that very mechanic that makes Vidar such a special experience and imbues it with intrinsic replayability. Combined with fantastic musical and art direction, Vidar may be the game where everyone dies, but it sure makes you feel alive.