Waking is a rather unique gameplay experience where you quite literally are the main character of the story, you have to embrace that the game wants you to make decisions based upon your life and provides many opportunities to think back over your life and your decisions and then incorporate these into the game to bring together the story of you.
Whilst you may have to have had some sort of trauma in your past to truly fit the narrative and then battle to discover how you ended up in a coma state between life and death fighting sleep demons and nightmares to try to recover your lost memories and to ultimately wake up the game is approachable for anyone and does a pretty clever way of making the memories you uncover become the weapons, powers and allies you use throughout the game to defeat the enemies before you.
The gameworld is set over 3 dreamscapes each with a maze of procedurally generated area’s with their own challenges leading to unlockable rewards providing the opportunity to take on a variety of challenges in order to unlock more rewards or head straight for the main storyline points and battle towards the end
Every area starts fresh procedurally generated where you get essentially an exploration phase over a variety of floors with varying challenges to complete where you gather neurons to use for your powers and objectives, hope which will allow you to open special boxes often containing useful powers and the powers and abilities to use to take down the end of area boss or challenge ahead.
This is not as simple as it sounds however as each world is filled with a variety of demons from wisps which regenerate to flying sleep keepers, turret towers and full on demons hunting you down throughout the worlds, and the further you progress into the game the more abilities and varieties of these will be standing in the way of you and waking up.
Perfection is the aim of the game as being able to take out enemies without getting hit really aids you and if you do get hit you are really punished because getting hit means losing all the hope you’ve gathered whilst gaining fear; which makes enemies hit harder move faster and also gain shields and other abilities, and if you’re hit by a tower will lock it off preventing you getting the rewards at it’s base, which while sealing it off from damaging you further can really hamper your ability to win.
Other than the powers you gather over time essentially combat comes through punching enemies, reflecting shots with shields or charging and throwing balls at them to do damage and defeat them, or getting your summoned companions to assist in taking them down. If you’re running short on skills you can pickup and charge trash scattered across the lands to throw at enemies to knock them down, which often provides you with some temporary melee skills or balls to aid in your fight if you’re desperate.
I can see how a lot of people may get frustrated with the way you have to be perfect when sometimes the game can create unfair spawns, but I personally enjoyed the challenge, it added to the actual fear aspect as you wanted to not get hit, fearing losing all of your useful resources maybe more than fearing losing life, as well as the fear of what comes if you gather too much fear from hits, there are ways to reduce this and mitigate this, but I think the gameplay challenge was just right and fitted the theme of the game well.
At times the challenges you have to complete to take on the boss can be a little awkward to find and complete, which usually means that by the time you have found the area boss you’ve got so many powers and abilities in reserve that the actual boss goes down like nothing, so in those aspects I perhaps would appreciate more challenge in the actual bosses but I can see why they wouldn’t want that as area’s themselves are time consuming to get through and to have to repeat them all just to get to the bosses again may have made people give up if that were the case.
The Story Of You
The uniqueness of the game comes from the story being truly about you, there are usually some form of decision or memory to discover after each and every area, where you are guided down memory lane to remember specific moments and memories in your past and then these become powers, abilities or skills to use, and in a few instances even memories of your first pet, or your romantic interest or close friends and family to aid you in your battle.
Over the three mindscapes you establish your origins story, memories of your loved ones and then your inner identity to make up the mind palace filled with all of your skills and abilities, and at the end of each you are rewarded with memories of what happened to your character in game which lead you to your untimely accident leaving you in this state.
I really enjoyed the way you find these powers within the levels and are reminded of this moment or that item given to you by a close friend, or even summon your loved ones to help keep you alive throughout the game,
There could have been more use of fears and twisting this to become enemy names or using your fears against you, and it would have been nice if some decisions effected things more like when you choose whether childhood or adult trauma effected you more as even choosing adult the game went on to have childhood fear as the first mindscape boss, and I do feel the origins mindscape focused too much on that hometown you grew up in, because I moved a few times as a kid and more of my origins story actually belongs elsewhere in finding myself after escaping there I did find going back to those to be a little too often, but it was good that some at least did draw from other parts of your life for the origin.
I really enjoyed the game and looked forward to exploring more memories to gain more powers and abilities to use throughout the game, and I relished the challenge and it felt very satisfying defeating my first very hard area, which in fact was 3 very hard challenges in a row and truly difficult to get through. I also found that the storyline was very fitting for some current situations I’m facing as I faught with sleep demons and other problems to be able to vent stress at my nightmare neighbours above me not allowing me to sleep at night and drew aspects of that into the game.
The game took me around 30-40 hours to complete although your time may vary, and there are still a few paths and avenues I wish to pursue to get all of the memories and levels completed because I enjoyed the memory lane aspects of it and want to experience everything. Your time will inevitably vary as some area’s are harder than others and you might have more difficulty in passing the challenges.
While a lot of the powers and skills you use are pretty much the same the gameplay is still pretty fun and the challenge feels appropriate for the game, and does provide very hard area’s for those who want an additional challenge too, the area’s being procedurally generated helps a lot with runs so every time you enter anywhere it’s different to degrees so you don’t feel like you’re doing the same stuff over and over, and as you get later into the game the more overwhelming and powerful the demons you have to face become, creating a difficulty curve forcing you to use more of your powers and resources in order to simply survive.
Overall I think it was very well done, with a fun gameplay element which is challenging and carries the fearful nature across the levels as you’re tormented and pursued by demons very well, incorporating your memories and personality across into your powers in such a unique way that this really does become the story of you and your friends as you attempt to wake up in a way that no other game has done before, and because this game carries this off so well, and provides many hours of challenging but fun gameplay at a very reasonable price is the reason that I have to award this game with the rare and coveted indelacio star.
I would recommend you play this for yourself, and discover the story of you throughout it as you challenge yourself to defeat the demons and recover your memories and abilities and ultimately discover why you’re in a coma and try waking yourself. (yes that’s a pun for waking up and the game being called waking) There is a demo which incorporates a reasonable amount of the gameplay and elements to discover if this is for you before purchase too.
Also available on steam now at https://store.steampowered.com/app/1068600/Waking/?snr=1_1056_4_1056_curator-tabs&curator_clanid=6860437