The “walking simulator” is an ever-growing genre that is seeing more and more acceptance as time goes by. It wasn’t long ago (i.e. 2012) that Dear Esther was lambasted for having no traditional game mechanics. And in 2013, everyone had to discuss whether Gone Home deserved to even be called a game. But while there have been several games to further the cause of storytelling over gameplay since then, it is still a fledgling niche. Though I would love to say that Corpse of Discovery is one of those games, it’s not. Uneven pacing and an over lack of polish keep Corpse from being anything more than nominally interesting.
Corpse of Discovery tells the story of an astronaut, a Major in the new Corps of Discovery. You are sent out for one final mission before you can finally retire and spend the rest of your life with your family. But it isn’t long before things start to go awry. After your mission fails, you find yourself tasked with a new mission, on a new planet, but with the same reward: retiring and returning home to your family.
It’s difficult to describe what’s wrong with Corpse’s story without spoiling things, but suffice it to say that the game takes too much time being obtuse without any sense of direction. And then, towards the end, a character appears whose sole existence hammers home the twist of the game. Like the videogame version of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, it has a twist because that’s what it “needs” in order to be "meaningful." Who cares if it makes sense.
The one area that Corpse does handle very well are holographic messages you receive from your family on Earth. It’s reminiscent of one of the most emotionally charged scenes from 2014’s Interstellar. I mean, they're really quite good but also they never feel long enough. It’s just enough to make your intrigued but nothing more. The same can’t be said for your “conversations” with Ava, your guide and companion. As the game progresses, Ava attempts to ask deep philosophical questions that are completely without merit. Failure is a big theme of the game, but that mostly comes across in Ava asking you if you “feel like a failure” or if you “think your family would be proud.” But these questions are meaningless without context giving them weight. Ultimately, the questions that are asked never feel as though they are asked of the player, only the Major. And the Major is always silent.
That’s a huge problem, because story is all Corpse of Discovery has going for it. Technically Corpse is more "gamey" than other walking simulators because there are fail states and you do have objectives. But your objectives are never more complicated than going here to place a beacon or going there to discover a new life form. And each objective is blatantly marked on your heads up display and the fail states provide no challenge, just frustration. There are only a few ways to die, mostly falling and being killed by flying space crustaceans. Neither of these obstacles require you to become better at the game, they just tell you to “not go that way.” There are also some side objectives that generally boil down to you clicking on an object and then reading text that implies that you’re hallucinating about pizza, your old bedroom, or watching some tripped out news broadcast.
To make matters worse, Corpse is terribly unpolished. I never had a problem with performance per se. The framerate is fine and it never crashed but the overall feel is sluggish. First off, the menus feel odd (which is a weird thing to critique but gives a bad first impression). There are also little quirks like the fact that if you die while Ava is talking, she’ll either continue to talk through your death and respawning, or she will stop talking but her monologue will never be re-triggered. Worst of all, though, is the ungodly amount of pop-in. Note the image above: there is an entire mountain where you see only three floating rocks in the sky. This kind of pop-in is constant, it’s distracting, and it seems unnecessary considering the game doesn’t push the envelope in graphical detail, particle effects, map size, or any other discernible way.
I wanted to like Corpse. The trailer looked great and some of my favorite games of the last few years have been this type of story driven experiences. But it fails to add anything new to the genre and is an ugly experience technically. It's unfortunate that Corpse of Discovery can't capitalize on it's strong premise. Instead, it flounders, attempting to be profound and metaphysical but never managing to be anything more than “meh.”
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.