Even the Ocean

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Analgesic Productions for PC and Mac, originally released in 2016.
Even the Ocean is an action adventure starring Aliph, a power plant technician who Is tasked with saving Whiteforge City – the continent’s technology center and beacon of humankind – from a barely-understood force that threatens to destroy everything. When her colleague is killed on a routine mission to repair a power plant, Aliph finds herself working directly for the mayor who explains that several power plants across the continent are in danger of shutting down, while the resident scientist scrambles to determine the cause.


Everything in the game’s universe is founded upon light energy (green) and dark energy (purple) – which is a not-uncommon theme in gaming – but here it not only comes in the form of a gameplay element; it is also integrated into the narrative structure. Light energy is associated with vertical force, and dark energy is associated with horizontal force, which impacts Aliph’s movement as she interacts with the world around her (more on this in a bit).


More than this, the city of Whiteforge is built using light energy and therefore stands tall, towering over the countryside and dwarfing neighboring buildings. The power plants that feed into Whiteforge are processing light energy, with dark energy emitted as exhaust. Even one of the NPC’s you encounter is wearing a purple necklace that allows her to move more quickly.


Similarly, Aliph can absorb light and dark energy, which is measured by a meter on the bottom of the screen. The more light energy she has, the higher she can jump, and the more dark energy she has, the faster she can run and the farther she can jump. However, she must keep these forces balanced, as absorbing too much of either type will kill her.


When the game begins, Aliph is wearing an environmental suit to protect her from being exposed to these light and dark forces, but an accident causes the suit to be destroyed. She manages to create a makeshift shield to protect her from focused beams of energy, but she remains susceptible to absorbing energy when coming into direct contact with light and dark plants and other energy-based objects. The shield can also be aimed to take advantage of wind and water currents, allowing Aliph to jump high on upward-flowing currents, or make long jumps when the currents are at her back.


Aliph has a low default jump height and movement speed, both of which may be increased (at the cost of the other) by absorbing light and dark energy. However, she is quite mobile and is able to wall slide and wall jump up any vertical surface. In addition, her shield may be aimed in four directions and locked in place to allow her to complete platforming challenges while protecting herself from directional beams.


The gameplay is divided into narrative sections and platforming challenges, as Aliph heads out each day on a mission, and then returns to Whiteforge to speak with the mayor and a newfound friend. However, players have the option to disable the platforming sections entirely and just experience the story, or vice versa, they may excise the narrative elements and play the game strictly as a platformer. Or, players may skip over any section of the game at will, although they risk spoiling certain elements by doing this.


That said, the narrative is very much worth experiencing, and the platforming elements are not overly challenging. While the overarching narrative is one of global catastrophe, the story focuses on the lives of the humans living within the world as they struggle with day-to-day issues, experience loss, have their feelings hurt, and try to come to terms with the difficulties they must face each day. Most days end with Aliph writing in her journal and reflecting on the preceding events, focusing primarily on her relationships rather than her mission to save the world, which helps to ground the experience.


Of note is the fact that the game features a high representation of racially diverse gay and transgender characters and rarely ever draws any added attention toward this fact. There is one scene where a group of angry citizens refers to a character with gendered pronouns while the character’s friends use gender-neutral pronouns… But even in this case, the focus of the discussion is centered around an unknown newcomer potentially being a terrorist – which is mimetically representative of events in the real world – offering a reflection of the citizens’ fears more than an issue of gender or race (which is unfortunately less representative of the real world).


Playing through the platforming sections is quite easy in the early going, and even when things get tougher in the latter half of the game, environments are small and checkpoints are very frequent. There is a great deal of leeway in the light/dark energy meter, and there are plenty of opportunities for players to shift the meter back toward the center, which makes it difficult to be killed outright. In addition, many of the challenges alternate between the use of light and dark energy – such as doorways that are opened by draining this energy from your body – so things tend to naturally balance themselves out (which is not only represents good design, but is also thematically important).


Rather than being killed, players will more often fail specific challenges that require a short bit of repeated gameplay in order to get right. This often involves carrying an orb through the level without letting it come into contact with any of the energy-based elements while it bounces back and forth on a horizontal or vertical track.


Most levels consist of a series of platforming challenges to navigate the environment, open doors, etc., followed by a power restoration sequence where the player must seek out and carry a number of the aforementioned orbs in order to get the power plant back up and running, followed by a simple mirror-flipping puzzle where the player directs a beam of light energy and a beam of dark energy.


The player is given some freedom in terms of the order in which he tackles the levels, with the mayor often presenting three possible destinations – along with a map showing how to get to them – and leaving it to the player to determine which area to tackle first as he traverses an open overworld map. That said, the levels are structurally very similar to one another, even once the power plant repairs are complete and the player moves on to a quest involving three large creatures called Geomes.


Geomes seem to be a mix of plant, animal, and mineral material and are the driving force behind your quest. Geomes have apparently been in existence for thousands of years and have wiped out every civilization just as their technology peaked. As such, once they appear, the focus is on finding a way to fight them rather than trying to better understand them, placing you and your mission in a moral grey area.


Aside from these Geomes, the player never faces any sort of living enemies. One of the few non-human interaction is with some sort of giant sentient starfish creature that lets you wander through its body to reach other parts of the level. There are NPC’s inhabiting most of the game's environments, and some must be engaged in order to move the quest forward. The player is also able to explore the city of Whiteforge, which is limited to a small number of specified areas that are reached by train. The city is divided between the luxurious spires of the upper section, where the politicians and rich folks live, as compared to the less advanced lower section where the common folk live.


Visually, the game is presented in a painterly style, and there are a wide variety of themed locales to visit across the game, although a significant portion of the gameplay takes place in visually similar power plant levels. A number of unlockables are available to players who manage to complete the game.



2D CRED
Even the Ocean was created by Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka, under their Analgesic Productions label. Sean was responsible for the game's programming and music, Joni was responsible for the art, and both contributed to the game's design.

The duo previously released Anodyne, which is something of a take on the classic Legend of Zelda formula, but it focuses on sweeping and dust rather than sword-based combat, offering a playful sense of humor mixed in with some occasionally dark moments. For an expansive look at the game, check our coverage here.

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