Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Lost at Sea – Thoughts on Estranged Act 1

By Owen Jones (Shipwrecked Poltroon)


Estranged is a free mod-thing that released on Steam a while back (I’m lazy, ok?) Built on the Source Engine, but not requiring you to own any Source Engine game to play, it’s rather good. You should play it and form your own opinions on it, but if you’d rather inflate my ego then read on, but first a trailer:

Estranged stretches the Source Engine to its limits. The news about the Dear Esther port from Source only goes to show that Valve are concentrating on Source 2, and Titanfall may well be the engine’s final hoorah. When you consider this and the fact that Estranged is free then it’s hard not to be impressed by it.
The graphics are impressive, but it’s the lighting that really got me. The game is focused on atmosphere, so it’s understandable why the lighting is so important. The textures and entities are a mix of standard Source stuff and the developers own compositions (including a fully functioning swipe card, might I add). I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about the technology that drives videogames, but it impressed me and my limited understanding.

It is heavily implied that this person may have been injured in some way

Estranged plays out as you would expect from a Half-Life mod, though with a few alterations. Gunplay and physics-based puzzles make up most of the game, and whilst fairly standard it was enjoyable enough. The combat has been ramped up, with limited health and scarce ammo I found myself having to plan out enemy encounters rather than diving in.
The story is ambiguous, though sometimes needlessly so. The shipwreck and unexplained oddities created intrigue, but I can already start to guess at where the plot is headed. Then again this is only the first act, perhaps Estranged will surprise me. There’s no central idea here, or at least none that I could find, which is disappointing because I felt the devs could have done more with the setup. Still, the atmosphere is what’s important here.
I know for a fact that others found the whole experience tense, bordering on scary, but I was never personally engaged with it. Whether it’s my fault or the mod's, I always seemed to know what was around the next corner and wasn’t really worried when I turned it. Sure, there’s scarce ammo and the nasties remain eerily quiet (probably my favourite thing about the mod), but I wasn’t immersed enough to be affected by it. Still, this is my personal opinion, and I’m sure others will disagree.

I like the Monet-esque lily pads...

Basically Estranged’s first act is a nice little distraction and defiantly worth a look, but never any more than that. The puzzles and combat keep you preoccupied and exploring the island was a joy, but it never became immersed in it. It’s no masterpiece, but if you’re looking for a (relatively) short distraction this weekend then I’d recommend Estranged. Who knows, perhaps the next Act will be something truly spectacular.
Estranged has a website, modDB page and can be downloaded from Steam for free. Go play it.