Saturday, 16 July 2011

Child of Eden: Hope Archive

I'm on YouTube trying to get some help with progressing through the Hope Archive, Child Of Eden's bonus challenge level, but tellingly the only two videos I find both have the players dying in much the same area as I have been, repeatedly, over the last week. It's those grids of squares that push up at the start of Level 6. The only way to clear them is by shooting the eight randomly placed red squares on each panel's surface. Manage to clear one and there's suddenly another right behind it, the red targets at opposing ends to each other, mocking our powers of reaction and speed. If it isn't the second panel that gets me then it's usually the third. I think about using Euphoria, Child Of Eden's name for a smartbomb, but I have a feeling I'll need it for later. If I even get that far. I've only ever cleared Level 6 a handful of times (once without losing any life or Euphoria) but then as my hastily scrawled notes on Level 7 bemoan: "All okay, apart from the large yellow/blue expanding floor". The Hope Archive is, at time of writing, the insurmountable pinnacle at the centre of what is 2011's most spell-binding gaming construction. I won't even begin to tackle the entire game in this one post but the Hope Archive seems like a good place to start decoding Child Of Eden's magnificence, however difficult it may be.

Unlocked upon completing the main game, the Hope Archive is a cute nod to Child Of Eden's spiritual predecessor, the much celebrated Rez. Whereas the core Child Of Eden game largely tackles the organic, its journey across five distinct stages running what appears to be the gamut of Earth's environments, Hope is something altogether different - meaner, tougher, albeit the same game as before stripped to its core. The enemies in Hope are those of hard geometry, the passage through strictly linear, the design resting on pure abstraction - yellow blocks, red cubes, floating neon debris, those aforementioned grid surfaces, floating up to meet you like the tiled floors in some cyberkinetic nightmare. Unburdened by narrative it distills what are already mechanics fine-tuned to near-perfection into an experience which surpasses Rez in several key areas.

The level of immersion is increased not merely through the absence of an on-screen avatar (a key difference between this game and Rez) but also with the enhanced interplay between sound and visuals. Every shot of your Tracer (Child Of Eden's second firing mode) adds the sound of a harsh drum pattern to an already busy audio track, while your main weapon offers a comparatively softer beat. So while destroying the electronic enemies you're also simultaneously constructing music, your input ensuring that each 'recording' is different to the last. In the later stages of Hope the relationship between the rushing speed of the visuals, the frantic drum and bass of the music, and your interaction with both fields, is astonishingly engineered. It's also a rare example of a game in which the entirety of the soundtrack could be said to be digetic, in that both the music and the sound effects appear to be coming from within the gameworld (another example from the top of my head would be Grand Theft Auto, and its excellent use of in-game radio stations).

Asked about the reasons why Hope has to be unlocked, as opposed to being available to play from the start, creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi said: "There should always be something for people to aspire to. And when you go through a lot of work to create a specific sort of experience, like in Child Of Eden, you want people to taste that first before you bring dessert". Hope anchors Child Of Eden to the one tradition without which all its ecological and philosophical ambitions would be rendered pointless: that of being a uniquely thrilling videogame. One day I'll get around to seeing it all.

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