Global climate change is not an issue that is going away. Open a newspaper, flick through the TV channels or turn on the radio, chances are the topic will be mentioned somewhere. The one place you aren’t likely to have seen it so far it is in video games, where the thought of fun doesn’t fit neatly hand-in-hand with self-induced environmental Armageddon. But now German developer Daedalic Entertainment has united the words “eco” and “thriller” in their latest adventure, A New Beginning. Hotly anticipated for its sensitive subject matter and distinctive hand-painted art ever since its announcement several years ago, the results have proven worth the wait, a few blemishes aside. If you’re sceptical that a socially conscious message can coexist with an entertaining storyline and engaging gameplay, set those fears aside, because this game manages it.
Don’t get the wrong idea: you’re not spending your time separating plastic from paper or screwing in energy-efficient light bulbs in A New Beginning. This is life, but not life as we know it. The story begins at its end: in the year 2500, when climate change has made the environment completely uninhabitable. The remaining survivors expect to be killed by an oncoming solar eruption, and a few small teams plan to jump back to 2050 in hope of preventing their annihilation by utilising their shaky time travel capabilities. The landing is successful, but nothing else is. London is flooded, Moscow frozen over and Sydney burning to the ground. Too late.
Gameplay begins in the present-day scenic mountainous landscape that is home to retired scientist Bent Svensson. With his bushy moustache and polo neck jumper, the middle-aged Bent is not your typical protagonist. Emotionally worn out from his years of research into algae as an alternative energy source, driven with dedication that took a severe toll on his family, lonely Bent is now pottering around his Norwegian cabin when a young woman named Fay lands in a helicopter, claiming to be from the future and fully convinced that Bent’s algae is the only way to stop the oncoming catastrophe. Bent is doubtful, of course, but listens as Fay explains how she arrived in her current situation.
Players then take control of Fay as she ‘re-enacts’ her story in telling it to Bent. This method of non-linear storytelling takes up the majority of the game’s first half (only popping back to the present day for a brief stint), which allows for some funny moments as Bent intercuts the story to question some of your decisions, either for humour or to nudge you in the right direction. As you soon learn, Fay originally landed in San Francisco, but it too was already in shambles. Upon realising that there’s been a miscalculation, she tries to regroup with the rest of her teammates in order to move further back in time.
Fay convincing Bent of Earth’s plight is really just the launch point for the remaining adventure. Once united, the real challenges begin. The ultimate aim is to convince the powers-that-be that Bent’s algae is the only solution, but everywhere they go the pair encounters resistance, from Bent’s former research station to an ecological summit to a power plant in the Brazilian jungle. At first it seems a little ingenuity may be enough to win the day, but proceedings become much more complicated when some shady deals start to become exposed, calling for more drastic measures. Each major location is made up of many different scenes that take a fair while to explore, doled out at a pace that has that ‘just another one’ feeling, especially in the last half of the game as the intensity ramps up and the characters and their relationships develop.
There’s a strong cast of characters as you venture through A New Beginning. Fay is a determined, strong-minded woman who is always trying to do the best thing, while Bent is a cynical and weary man. These two play off each other to great effect, and I found myself rooting for both of them in different ways: Fay in her desperate eco-quest and Bent in rebuilding a bond with his estranged son Duve. Then there’s Salvador, Fay’s commander and a rough man willing to stop at nothing to save humanity. His intentions are sound, but his demeanour is harsh and the path he takes in order to get there is questionable. Despite only making brief appearances, other people like the fanatical technician who is overly protective of his car and the odd survivor in 2050 who invites you to meet his invisible friends all make an impression, a testament to the diversity of personalities offered here. Everyone feels very real, very human, which makes them all the more believable and relatable.
The voice acting stands strong, for the most part. Nearly every character’s voice suits them perfectly: Bent’s exhaustion, Salvador’s bluntness and news reporter Oggy’s enthusiasm all come across as genuine, but some of the inflection, or lack thereof, is borderline cringeworthy in the more emotional scenes. The main offender is Fay, who delivers most of her dialogue in a similar tone whether she’s angry or sad, which I found hard to take seriously. She’s perfectly serviceable and by no means disastrous, but it’s a weak link that stands out. The only totally appalling performance comes from a secondary character, but luckily the role in question only has a couple of lines.
The English translation seems to have gone relatively smoothly as well. There are a few occasional hiccups here and there where the dialogue seems too formal, but the emotion and intent behind each line is still very much intact. Never are you grabbed by the shirt and force-fed an environmental message (but it certainly made me think about my role in protecting the planet), nor is this a one-sided debate, since ethical questions are raised on both sides and the extent to which people are willing to go to pursue their goals. And although the game is tackling a serious subject, occasionally it shows a humorous side, such as when a computer speech recognition system fails to function correctly or when a door guard gets defensive over his baldness.Continued on the next page...