Off Grid can be taken in one of two ways: a slight satire which follows a single person enabled to stand against a corrupt government, using technology to break the shackles and constraints of the vicelike-grip of the digital world they control; or a stealth-hacking adventure game about a clueless parent simply trying to rescue their child.
I’ve played through Off Grid‘s demo build twice now, once at EGX ’17, and again at (the fantastic) Indies Unplayed at the Loading Bar in London. While the whistle-blower and government conspiracy threads are critical elements of the game, inevitably more so as the campaign progresses, I took them as I had taken the Establishment Conspiracy backbone of Beyond Good & Evil, or the first Assassin’s Creed: Art can reflect life, but people don’t need to take dread from a dread-inspired painting.
Rich Metson, one of the developers who happened to be manning the stand at both events, would likely disagree. He juxtaposes that the hacker is more similar to a modern rogue, a person with a power to great good and bad, but an archetype which has been painted as inherently evil and greedy by those who possess wealth and use it to present themselves as good, and as the embodiment of Order.
These thoughts and beliefs are present in the game’s campaign, which is pocked with conspiracy and cover-ups featuring a whistle-blower journalist on the run, a network of hackers and a nigh-endless supply of men in black suits actively shutting down those who are investigating things they’d rather see kept hidden.
The idea behind it, then, may be deadly serious, but the game — interestingly — seems to opt to build on proven elements of Metal Gear Solid, Gunpoint and (in a charming, if accidental, way) Octodad to get its point across: stealth, hacking, and a sometimes-disjointed physics movement system.
The demo I played was from the very early, formative levels of the campaign. Having witnessed his daughter being abducted in front of his very eyes, the protagonist set out to try to rescue her. A clueless consumer of technology, he wasn’t bound to get far. However, associates of his daughter reached out shortly afterwards, expressing an equal desire to free her from the clutches of an overbearing government, albeit as part of their continued goal of casting a light on the shady activities being used to try to keep the populace in the dark.
The offices of The Oracle, then, are as good a place as any to start the search for information. Not least because somebody who claims to have information on your daughter, who happens to be a whistleblower in the employ of the company, is currently extremely compromised due to the sunglassed suits swarming the place.
Introduction to Off Grid’s mechanics is cleverly masked as an introduction for the clueless protagonist; we learn the controls for stealth, as well as how to activate the utilise apps — the game’s abilities — through in-game messages intended for the out-of-his-depth father. A slowly diminishing battery bar informs us that we have too many apps active; maybe we don’t need the ‘light sensitivity’ app live to tell us that we’re out of sight. For the moment, it certainly seems less valuable than the app which unveils a massive, sprawling web of tracking data — showing SMS messages, traipsed paths and the many terminals we can interact with.
Even with your increasing toolbox of tricks you simply can’t go on the offensive — enemies are fast to move and will taze you without remorse. Instead, you need to hack into computers, isolate connections through networks, and power down cameras or generate distractions to open up pathways for you. Stealth is completely key, be that through physically evading the goons or through silently whistling through Ethernet cables and wireless networks.
The character, interestingly, moves without a trace. Flip-flopping to the floor yet never leaving a mark, busting open passageways without a fingerprint. Off Grid features no inventory, with actions normally performed by the small thrown objects and noisemakers of Off Grid’s contemporaries instead replaced with the activation of radios or the mass spooling of test pages.
Enough on the demo, though. The most interesting thing, by far, about Off Grid is the fact that the developers intend to release the level design toolbox for the game as soon as they can. It’s an intriguing, fully customisable effort which loads up into Unity for players to tinker with, an effort which extends from cameras to briefing conversations.
While we’ve definitely not seen the full extent of the ‘apps’ which will be deployed in the game (an anti-drone app titled ‘fly-swatter’ was included in the initial demo, but saw no use) it’s already clear that Off Grid will be one to watch out for in 2019. Those interested can find out more about the game over on its website.