It’s tough to stand out among the over-saturated indie game market these days. Developers need their games to have a distinct artistic style, innovative gameplay, an interesting story, competent coding and more. And even that’s not a guarantee of success. So when ICA Games recently launched a campaign for the first-person survival adventure game Uayeb, the development team had a lot to keep in mind in order to really make their game pop. As it stands, the campaign’s success remains dubious.
Crying A Ho-Hum River
Running as it does with CRYENGINE, Uayeb suffers from what many indie games suffer from: A lack of distinct visuals. Not to say bad, because most everything run through engines like CRYENGINE and Unreal looks good, but it’s tough to parse out much anything distinct about Uayeb‘s visuals. The gameplay footage teases urban landscapes overgrown with foliage and Far Cry-like jungle locales that look great and work on a technical level, sure. Something interesting can grow out of these familiar settings, but Uayeb doesn’t show us any of that as yet. Visually Uayeb doesn’t have a whole lot going for it that several dozen already-produced indie games can’t provide.
Behind the scenes, the ICA Games team appears somewhat less than qualified. Two of the three members, Martyn Luke and Katabelle, are primarily voice actors. While voice acting is of course important to the finished product, to be sure, it signals a red flag to me when the majority of your development team is only tangentially involved with development. Not to mention the so-so quality of the voice acting on display in the campaign video.
Francis Courchinoux appears to be the main powerhouse behind the project, having over 20 years experience in the industry and delivering roles in “Story & script writing, Game design, Level design, Coding, Art direction, 3D Art, 2D Art, Modeling, Texturing, Lighting, Particles, Music, Sound FX, Communication & Marketing, and coffee!” But as the Uayeb campaign has a modest financial goal of only $21,000 and promises to be a sweeping adventure with 20 to 30 hours of gameplay, a day-night cycle and 16 square kilometers of world to explore, one can’t help but question how feasible this could really be with only one person doing the majority of the work.
Now, in Uayeb‘s favor, potential backers do at least have a respectable amount of gameplay footage to check out. Here again though we have to take a step back and consider what’s different or unique about this gameplay, what we couldn’t already get from so many similar indie games. Uayeb promises to be a unique kind of experience, one that focuses less on combat and more on exploration, one in which the protagonist is not a super macho soldier but an ordinary guy. The thing is, that isn’t especially unique these days. Selling your game as “unique” by adding these little touches just doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead, you either have to be upfront about your influences or really work to convince the potential backer of your game’s uniqueness. As far as Uayeb‘s campaign description can attest, the game appears to be something like a first-person Tomb Raider clone. Balanced by the counterweights of action and puzzle-solving, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. After all, action and puzzle solving are the two broad main appeals of most games out there. But again, what’s new here? We aren’t unconvinced, but the campaign hasn’t brought forth a strong enough argument.
The narrative might be Uayeb‘s saving grace. Especially in its Mayan influences, this story could be an interesting mixture of post-apocalyptic tropes and Mayan history and mythology. The team’s lack of prowess in the English language, though, could raise a serious problem. The Kickstarter campaign’s description uses simple, stilted language with many exclamation points. Likewise in the campaign video. Maybe we’re dealing with an attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator or something, but this could seriously knock back the narrative’s potential. But, hey, games that use simple language or no language at all like INSIDE and Dropsy have succeeded, so maybe Uayeb could follow suit.
Uayeb has flaws in pretty much all of its most apparent selling factors: gameplay, narrative, artistic style, etc. It isn’t without potential, no, but dozens of similar games have just as much to offer the player. Uayeb boasts its uniqueness and innovation, but it still has a long way to go to convince the potential backer of how different and new it actually is.