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‘Remnant: From the Ashes’ Makes Post-Apocalyptic Feel Real

By September 14, 2019 No Comments
'Remnant: From the Ashes' Makes Post-Apocalyptic Feel Real

Julie Muncy

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting autumn. That’s what takes me from believing Remnant: From the Ashes is an interesting experiment to thinking that it’s a game worth playing. It’s the leaves, a smattering of red and orange and brown covering over the dilapidated landscape I find myself in as the game’s first major area opens up. It’s a small, simple touch, a seemingly obvious artistic choice in the game’s otherwise familiar post-apocalyptic landscape. But it makes the whole world absolutely sing.

Remnant: From the Ashes, developed by Gunfire Games, isn’t a title that got a ton of buzz before its release. Gunfire is mostly known for Darksiders II and III, follow-ups in a series of faux-edgy Zelda pastiches that I lost the thread on years ago. And Remnant doesn’t stir much in the blood on an elevator-pitch level. It’s a Dark Souls-like game about conquering extreme challenge in a series of alien biomes, from a ruined autumnal Earth to places much different. It’s partially randomized, with different level layouts and enemy placements every campaign, and each level is punctuated by big boss fights. There are guns to shoot, which is a deviation from the regular Souls formula, but that’s not exactly a selling point. You’re forgiven if this sounds derivative to you.

And yet: Remnant starts out as an exercise in what it isn’t. After the character creator, you end up in a series of narrow, ugly dark spaces, fighting monsters with a lousy silver sword. It feels like a million games I’ve played before, and I died pretty quick, as much from a lack of interest as anything else. This is a planned death—your character wakes up in a walled-off settlement not far away, and everyone immediately acts like you were out of your mind for going out there with a sword. A couple of tutorial missions later, though, and you’ve got some guns, a neat hat, and a lot more sense.

The idea of centering guns as the primary focus of a Souls-like game is a questionable one on paper, but in action it works incredibly well. Gunfire Games has produced a survival horror combat system that feels like Resident Evil 4 but even more dire. You are forced to roll and dodge away from hordes of strange creatures—”the Root,” they’re called, and they seem to grow out of the Earth itself—looking to find the proper angle to shoot safely from. It’s clunky, a little stiff, but in a way that’s still satisfying even if it’s hard to put words to. The high lethality of the combat—you can die in just a few hits, as can a lot of enemies—lends the guns a weight to them, and the introduction of gameplay mechanics like ammunition, cover, and reloading serve as fine complications to what might otherwise be a rote brawler.

But what really stands out here is the stunning art direction. Like I said, it’s the leaves—the touches of color and life in the environments, the way the larger spaces in the game are cohesive and striking. The major settings in the game feel like concept paintings come to life, and there’s a real mastery of color here. The reds and oranges of the leaves bleed into the golden hour lighting, which is accented by the dark red and black of the Root, which then play off the muted gray of broken concrete and abandoned buildings. Post-apocalyptic fiction is so typical in games that a destroyed landscape struggles to provoke any emotion except maybe boredom, but the sheer care given to Remnant’s environments succeeds in a way that most other games in this type of setting don’t. Remnant is a reminder that there can be an unsettling grandeur in these kinds of locales, a lonely beauty. The desolation reinforces the player’s own solitude, and pushes them to reflect on the loss and horror of these sorts of settings, while also making every moment feel more stark and dangerous.

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