Space junk and dieselpunk.
INSOMNIA: The Ark is an old-school RPG that’s eight years in the making. After playing through the short closed beta, it’s shaping up to be a complex, engrossing experience.
INSOMNIA is set on board a giant city floating through space where Bioshock and Fallout sensibilities have merged in a stylish dystopian blend. You start the campaign in the peaceful, sunlit LIMB, a simulation which most of the population are plugged into – saving essential resources for the rest.
You’re quickly torn from your sleep as you barely escape a terrorist attack inside the digital world. This sends the residents of the ark into a panic. The military is out in full force and, as it turns out, you’re a soldier who’s being prepped for duty.
You build a basic character class, which affects starting stats such as stealth, damage, computers and proficiency with guns. I chose the Helot, a stealth based class who’s a dab hand at lockpicking and SMGs. But there are plenty of choices to suit just about any play style.
Your class will also sometimes get unique dialogue choices. As a Helot, my upgraded ‘scammer’ ability let me steal a confused man’s favourite book. Why? That wasn’t exactly clear. The book seemed important, though.
A lot of my time with INSOMNIA was spent walking and talking. The writing impressed me, in particular the strong sense of setting you get from dialogue. The Mono Studio team has built a world with a full history, with numerous factions, rebels, political intrigue and social issues at play.
When you enter the world of INSOMNIA, you find a dystopia in disarray and you develop the unnerving feeling that you’re one of the bad guys. Constant hallucinations, an after-effect of the terrorist attack, haunt you through your journey. If you try to open up to anyone about them, they get flustered and refuse to speak further.
After some trading and obsessive inventory management, I decided to do my duty and plough ahead with the main questline. Most quests in the beta are unfortunately similar – enter a network of tunnels or corridors and shoot down enemies until you reach the end.
Combat is challenging. Enemies deal a lot of damage and your weapons need regular repairing. Ammo is scarce and the inability to move the camera upwards makes aiming feel like an arcade rail shooter. Despite all that, it was still a thrill to take on groups – but I hope the final release has more open and tactically interesting combat scenarios.
The behind-the-back camera makes this much more active than older, isometric RPGs, and character movement, dodging and stealth feels great. There are no quest markers either. You have to read your journal and check the area map to figure out where to go. Exploration is key, and this all adds up to make you feel heavily immersed.
The beta ends with an atmospheric cliffhanger sequence, and as the late title card hit I was immediately ready for more. Not long to wait now, INSOMNIA is out in September, and I’m hoping the final release hits the ground running. After eight years, it seems worth the wait.
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