LudoNarraCon 2020: Ring of Fire

What’s this: another detective game? After making pledges to the crowdfunding campaigns for two upcoming titles last month and then being interested by another during an online event a couple of weeks ago, a further entry in the genre has been added to my wishlist.

First, I became a Kickstarter backer for pixelated point-and-click Chinatown Detective Agency by General Interactive Co. and cyberpunk RPG Gamdec by Anshar Studios on the same day in April. Then I watched a live broadcast by Mi’pu’mi Games about the recent release of their mystery adventure The Flower Collectors during LudoNarraCon. And now, after having the opportunity to play a demo for Ring of Fire during the expo, I’m looking forward to hitting the streets of New London for a gritty detective thriller.

Far Few Giants’ project caught my eye for several reasons. It’s obvious that I really enjoy games of this type, but there was something about this one which made it feel far more serious than some of the others I’ve come across. When I started up the demo and saw a message advising that it would require real detective work and was meant to be played with pen-and-paper because not all clues were obvious or would be repeated, I knew this would be exactly the sort of thing which deserved a spot on my wishlist.

The game kicks off as you and your new partner Nacir head towards a bloody crime scene. It’s clear that you aren’t exactly enthralled by his presence and would rather be anywhere than in a car with him. Searching for the case number in the database reveals the address you need to get to and entering this in your SatNav takes you straight there. You can see Senior Detective Grosvenor’s thoughts on-screen and wonder what on earth is going to happen when you find out you’re ‘hellbound for the shitshow that ended her career’.

There were two things that struck me about Ring of Fire immediately. First was that Nacir was wearing a deer mask; as I progressed through the demo, I discovered that it was normal for people to don these in 2062 and most individuals had a legitimate alter-ego. It wasn’t made entirely clear how this element fits into the storyline but it gave the impression that everyone leads double lives. The fact that Grosvenor refuses to conform and wear a mask makes her seem like even more of a stubborn badass.

Next was the art-style: who knew that walking into a murder scene would be so visually pleasing? The game has a very modern look that’s almost like a retro version of the future, and blood spilled over the carpet of a South London apartment in attractive swirls. The lack of detail in objects and faces just adds to the impression that everybody is hiding a secret under a shiny façade and it had the effect of making me concentrate more fully on what the characters were saying, as I really wanted to figure them out.

LudoNarraCon, live broadcast, video game, Ring of Fire

A search around the rooms and a chat with a witness here gives a little insight into what has happened. Youth worker Zhenrong Lo (Zen) has been brutally murdered: a weird code is lasered across his chest, a certain appendage is nowhere to be found (ahem) and a wedding ring has been shoved onto his finger posthumously. A tablet left in the living room reveals some incriminating content about his life-style and a sunflower placed centrally within the blood on the floor is a clear sign of staging.

Using the information gathered, I was able to perform a search on the police database and make my way to a bar the victim had visited. A scan of the security footage didn’t find him however – maybe because he was wearing an unregistered mask for an alter-ego that nobody knew anything about. The witness at the apartment had mentioned Zen’s elusive wife so my next step was to try her. Perhaps I didn’t push her hard enough though, because I didn’t get much out of her other than tears.

It was at this point that I became stuck briefly. It felt as though I’d followed up on all the current leads but I must have missed something. Sure enough, going through the rooms again and re-checking the database gave me an address for Zen’s business partner, but a talk with him just made the situation even more mysterious. Why had his old school friend never met his wife? And why did his business partner say he had never met this friend, when apparently they’d all gone to college together?

The demo ended back in the victim’s apartment where I came across a clipping from a local news site which feature a photograph of him with a dozen children. One of them looked very familiar to a face on the tablet we’d found earlier, so if Zen didn’t have any kids then why did those holiday shots exist? As Grosvenor surmised that things weren’t getting any clearer and further questions came to my mind, a message from the developer appeared on screen to thank me for playing their prototype. Hopefully one day soon I’ll manage to catch the murderer.

Despite its stylised visuals, this project has such a gritty quality and I get the impression that whatever we find in the full release isn’t going to be happy. That’s not to say I’m not eager to play it however; having to keep a pen and paper close by to record clues was a nice touch and added to the pressure of the situation depicted in the game. The Steam page advises the case must be solved by text entry meaning that players won’t be able to brute force the puzzle, so I’m looking forward to pitting my wits against the Ring of Fire Killer.

It’s worth noting that Ring of Fire contains some dark subject matter including profanity and descriptions of extreme violence. But if you’re interested in finding out more, head over to the official website and give Far Few Giants a follow on Twitter.

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