As the video game medium evolves into a more comprehensive experience, mechanically defined genres have blurred, thematic material and atmosphere emerging as the most accurate descriptions of games. Spate is neither a platformer nor a two-degrees-of-freedom walking simulator; it is a psychological thriller, ripe with counterplay between its prominent mechanic and its aesthetic intentions.
The Negs --
Spate is a game that relies heavily on illusion and atmosphere. You are held in harrowing hallucinations as much as the protagonist, but this captivation spirals down the drain faster than a slick steamer in a Taco Bell toilet whenever you speak with the main NPC, a comedic relief robot that passes for funny only in abrupt contrast with the otherwise somber environment. The game's exposition switches between text box (for conversations with NPCs) and voiced narration for the protagonist's thoughts. The text boxes aren't the best writing and they have several grammatical errors (as does the store page description if you care to look for them), but the real issue is in the execution of these internal monologues. The writing for these is slightly less obtuse than store-brand cereal names. In a genre that demands vague motivations and misleading actions to unsettle the player's own thoughts, this title was rather direct in all things. Any misdirection by the narrator is almost immediately recanted and explained. Interpretation is unheard of. Also, these narrative monologues come up in one of the 6 distinct gameplay portions. These are open straightaways (wherein the long narration occurs), NPC interactions, platforming segments, sliding sections, "Angry Birds" mini-games, and "Helicopter Game" mini-games (you know, the one we all used to play on public school computers with the bright green cavern walls and terrible collision boxes where you click to fly up and release to fall down while constantly moving right). I suspect that the straightaways are designed as such that you can just listen to the narration and take in the environment without much thought as to where to jump or what pitfall to avoid. The problem is that these are too long. If you were to continue to walk right for the duration of the monologues, it would often conclude long before the next segment of gameplay. This is suboptimal design. Besides, the platforming sections are so infrequently strewn into the game with such embarrassingly shallow challenge that there would be no concern for distraction should the player encounter one during important exposition. The sliding sections are slopes that your character slips down without any control. The two mini-game types seem to be attempts at bolstering the gameplay, but they neglect that Spate's most enticing characteristic is not its gameplay. I will say, though, that the most fun parts of the game were the "helicopter" segments. My very minor complaints for this title are some collision glitches and an uneventful soundtrack that was just a smattering of sounds you might hear in any token thriller.
The Pos --
Eric Provan developed this game as a personal project and I am glad he did. Provan has worked for Disney's and Henson's animation studios, and he designed models and textures for such works as Frozen, The Amazing Spiderman, Alice in Wonderland, and Big Hero 6. His experience in 3D modelling provides Spate with its most powerful aspect: a haunting visual trek through a fantastically detailed world. The game is set in a steampunk era, and it plays well with the dark and mechanical environmental elements. The visual experience is unrivaled by most 2.5D side-scrollers; it develops a cerebral existence with themes symbolically integrated into the geography of the protagonist's world. While the story is not especially well-written, it does offer an emotional journey if the player wishes to be so engrossed. This is actually the most satisfying part of the game to me. The game very early informs you that you can take a swig of absinthe at any point during the game. The effect is shocking at first, the world twisting and distorting, backgrounds shifting into monstrosities. Having consumed the spirit, the player can move slightly faster and jump significantly higher. As is the case with absinthe, the player will encounter hallucinations on account of the drink which really embellishes the story in every good way. I will not ruin any plot elements in this review, but I will say that the entire game can be beaten without drinking absinthe, only some of the platforming sections are made stupidly simple if you are under the influence (due to the jump height advantage). I loved this intertwining of mechanic and story, since an alcohol addiction may make coping with pains significantly easier but it is never one's only option. A slighter pleasantry I should mention is the pacing of the game. It took 2 hours to play through, and I did not feel that any distinct section was drudgery, since the narration and visuals did mesmerize me quite well.
The Verd --
It may very well seem that I loathed this game, but its mistakes had much to do with the gameplay, which was not Spate's draw in the first place. Rather, thrilling atmosphere and striking animation are what this title offers most. I would have to dissuade those looking for a fun platformer from purchasing this game, but anyone who might be interested in a spectacle of mind games in service of a gloomy theme must experience Spate. For missing out on an opportunity to further immerse the player by melding more of the mechanics with the plot and for leaving the gameplay unattended, Spate garners a [7 / 10]. A dark theme terrifically employed into an uncertain world, Spate makes a great game for anyone willing to overlook its design flaws.