‘Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.’
The game Pyre takes this conceit a step further, suggesting that, we must game in order to live in 2017.
Imagined by Supergiant games, Pyre follows the legacy of titles like Bastion and Transistor and in their wake, take their achievements to new heights, visually, mechanically and even in a sense spiritually.
The real magic of Pyre is discovering this world piece-meal as you live in it. Giving away too much of this fantastical realm defeats the purpose of the game – Let’s put it this way, at one point a mustachioed dog basketball player helped me find a piece of molten rock that I trade with a smile goblin sitting on his dad’s back to allow my talking fairy Imp to shoot more fire.
Narratively, you traverse through the Downside, an area replete with untold magic and treasures and home to the condemned that are forced to walk in this nomad’s land of wonder. This is a fantasy story that will stand the test of time and has no need to rely on dwarfs or orcs to be relevant. Most importantly, everything is interactive – in your Imp wagon everything can be touched, and admired with a tooltip that reflects on what your character perceives of the item along with it’s function. Small things like that elevate this 15 dollar title to something more.
Pyre, functionally, chooses to innovate in every aspect to it’s design – most choices that blow you away, others that begin to wear on you, but still, the game keeps challenging your expectations for what fantasy can do, and then iterates on itself. Leaving you excited, sometimes confused but always intrigued.
Early in the narrative, you are given the power through a gothic omnipotent god to make small decisions for your group. Will you take the easy way through Flagging Horde or possibly hurt the travelers by going an alternative route to get a rare item? Then 6 hours in, these decisions evolve into determining the fate or your compatriots on the world itself. Simply, effectively, and with a mire and whimsy that makes you smile. Think, Alice in Wonderland meets Banner Saga and finally, with a little taste of Blitz ball.
The main gameplay mechanic is a mix of basketball and football, you’re tasked with maneuvering your growing number of team mates through a trial against other hopeful doomed foes by throwing an orb into their Pyre.
The catch is, if you are hit, touched or interacted with while carrying the orb you are banished from the match. Each rite it set up with its own gothic colour commentator that is the arena announcer we’ve always wanted, whips and quips in conjunction with this magic playground, yes please.
The matches at first become a trial in attrition, moving your trusted dog around the slower combatants will get you through the shaky controls. But much like the perfectly paced narrative progression this sure-fire way to win falls flat midway through the game as you are forced to use different characters and master the move set.
This is where Pyre is at its weakest, with controls that can be confusing and a bit frenetic pace – tonally it’s a juxtaposition with a magic surrealist narrative arch and this NBA Jam Alpha that feels strange but also magical. If you can play with a controller, do because there is a meta system here that is easy to learn and difficult to master.
When Pyre is finally completed and the credits roll, I was left feeling bereft. The weight of my decisions affecting the world in ways I didn’t expect, but the journey through this beautiful story book that weighs the power of words and choice is intoxicating.
Pyre is plainly, is one of the most eclectic and memorizing artist experiences of 2017. GET IT NOW