Saturday Spotlight: Light (CBET)

The Light 2

It’s not clear how successful the first Russian Indie Bundle – run as a giveaway back in May – was, but given that the site’s domain or host has since lapsed it seems unlikely that we’ll see another. We sent Arcadian Rhythm’s Russian correspondent in to find out more, but unfortunately he was lost in transit. We’re… we’re fairly confident he’ll turn up again, even if the Russian Indie Bundle won’t.

The bundle contained FlyborgThe KiteThe Light, Dungelot, Astrodude and Transition; a generic collection of titles if there ever was one. Fortunately the games themselves promised to be a more mixed bunch, from Dungelot’s stripped-down dungeon crawling to The Kite’s point and click adventure concerning a struggling Russian housewife. I’m still working my way through an immense backlog of free and bundle-derived indie games so I’ve only tried a couple of these titles, and thus far it’s The Light that has leapt out at me.

Initially The Light, or CBET to go by its Russian name, appears little more than an admittedly impressive tech demo put together by a small Russian team, possibly students. It kicks off with the player stood in a ruined building which soon turns out to be a long-abandoned school; inside everything is gloomy, ruined and sparse but outside nature has begun the process of reclamation and greenery is spreading everywhere.

For the first twenty minutes I spent with The Light I simply explored, poking my nose in various rooms and running around the outskirts of the building. Initially it appeared that this was all there was to do; the game presents no instructions to the player and there is no environmental storytelling to suggest a particular course of action. Quite by chance I stumbled upon an item in an old wardrobe, and it was then I realised there was more to this than a pretty environment.

The Light is a small game and had it included any modern sops to players like signposting or environmental indicators it would also have been a very short one. Without any of that I spent perhaps two hours unpicking everything. I came across a clue or item often enough that I never gave up in confusion and my explorations were helped along by the indoor and outdoor environments you explore, which are by turns oppressive and soothing.

Eventually it becomes apparent that The Light is intent on telling a story, and as that progresses the game drifts away from its realist setting and tone to indulge in a symbolist approach. So it is that by the time The Light closes out it’s shifted from an open-ended exploration and item/location puzzle game to a somewhat heavy-handed message delivery system, but by that time I was sufficiently drawn in by its ambience and tone to give that message the time its creators clearly wanted me to.

Even though The Light’s promising mysteries resolve into what, in light of the modern obsession with post-apocalyptica, are almost clichés, I can’t fault an experience that I enjoyed and several times surprised me by revealing itself to be something other than I had expected.

The Light 4