2011 is set to be a thoroughly outstanding year for gamers, but one of the most important titles of the year isn't going to scream for your attention with explosive trailers and gravelly-voiced cutscenes. Rather, the long-awaited Child Of Eden from Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment will seductively purr at you with jawdropping visuals, conceptual music and thoughtful symbolism that belies the accessible gameplay mechanics. Put simply, it will greatly enrich your life more than any multiplayer FPS ever could.
To this end, let's take a look at how Child Of Eden is shaping up, as well as what we can expect from the experience.
The Premise: Synesthesia
You must have played Rez to begin with. Or nothing that follows will seem wondrous. - Charles Dickens (allegedly)
Rez gave us our first taste of Synesthesia when it hit the Dreamcast in 2001. This powerful word describes a condition where senses become mixed up and jumbled together, becoming indistinguishable from each other and allowing the subject to literally see sound. Obvious parallels to certain illegal substances aside, this was achieved by each and every player action adding notes or sound effects to the musical accompaniment, which grew organically across the levels. Liberal use of controller vibration (as well as a worryingly sexual peripheral on the PS2) provided the tactile aspect.
In terms of game mechanics, Child Of Eden will will remain much the same as its beloved predecessor- which is to say that it's essentially a rail shooter in the style of Panzer Dragoon and Afterburner. Retro shooter fans will already be au fait with Paint and Release mechanics, which require players to control an on-screen reticule that also moves the character around the screen.
This may sound just a tad simplistic and overly similar to Rez, but Child Of Eden will use this accessible gameplay mechanic to elevate Synesthesia to a whole new level.
Music And Story: Intertwined
What’s the visual and emotional gist, and what’s the story? I decided this almost at the beginning. - Mizuguchi, November 2010
Music is a (if not the) key element of the Synaethesia experience. The hectic Rez action essentially took place inside a computer, meaning that busy trance and electronica tracks were the order of the day. Oh, and not forgetting a thoroughly epic version of Adam Freeland's Fear Is The Mind Killer. However, Child Of Eden will attempt to tell a much more complex tale based on hope and happiness.
To this end, Mizuguchi has drafted in his own personal band, Genki Rockets, to provide the audial backdrop to his masterpiece... and ended up using them for more than just music. Described as a "conceptual band," Genki Rockets' lyrics are based on a short story about a singer named Lumi who observes the Earth from a orbiting capsule in outer space, which gave them the idea to link the music and story canons together. In the upcoming storyline, scientists have attempted to recreate Lumi's consciousness in Eden, the next evolution of the internet that contains vast archives on what it is to be human- and how we evolved to this level. Unfortunately a virus managed to enter Eden as well, and players will have to purge the archives while Lumi's emergent intelligence starts to slowly rebuild itself.
Synesthesia is all about blending visuals, sound and tactile response together into one deep holistic experience. Mixing story and mythology into this combination is the next logical step.
What Can We Expect?
By setting Child Of Eden in a database that chronicles the entirety of human achievement and prehistory, Mizuguchi can use the the concept of evolution and nature as his own personal playground. We'll clear musical viruses from a neon space data whale... who eventually transforms into a phoenix. We'll traverse the human genome as if it were the information superhighway. We'll be able to transcend linear notions of what games can deliver- and how stories can be told without dialog or cutscenes. And almost certainly encounter a whole bunch of weird stuff that doesn't make sense until playthrough number three.
What can we expect? It's a cliche, but quite frankly, we can expect the unexpected.
So...Why Is It Taking So Long?
Playing the game with Kinect is very difficult... I mean... different. It is very different. - Tetsuya Mizuguchi, September 2010
Ah, yes. This brings us to arguably the most vexing part of the preview. My intel suggests that Child Of Eden is in the fine-tuning stages at present, with only a small amount of spit and polish necessary to hurry Mizuguchi's magnum opus onto the shelves. But according to last year's reports from fellow journalists and the buzz on trade room floors, the Kinect functionality was all kinds of broken.
This is worrysome simply because it promises to be the best Kinect game of all time, ever, ever. The experience should feel like conducting a laser orchestra in your own living room, but unfortunately it reportedly feels like signalling for a bus that just won't stop. Luckily, it seems that a slew of aim assists and continually-tweaked firmware may have finally gotten Kinect functionality up and running. I've rarely been this excited over a motion control title.
Child Of Eden still doesn't have a firm release date beyond '2011'- but make no mistake, it promises to be a genuinely life affirming experience that pushes the boundaries of what games can deliver. Now with 100% extra laser space whale.