Stuck in the dark with A.V.

According to the A.V. page on Steam, the game can be described as follows:

“A.V. follows the adventure of a sentient music program living in a computer system – a program seeking to learn more about itself and its world. But since our hero was only programmed to understand sound, that’s the only way he can interact with his environment. Each sound you generate can be seen as a pulse of light, and it’s this mechanic that serves as your primary tool for navigating A.V.’s open world….”

While the description explains the basic concept behind the game, I found it did not describe the mechanics of the game itself. A.V. is a first person adventure/exploration game where we navigate through a series of rooms. Along the way we pick up various abilities, such as the power to shoot small beams of energy and freeze rays. The energy beam is used to activate objects, such as platforms, while the freeze ray temporarily stops objects. We control our character by using the ASWD keys to navigate and the mouse to change where our character is looking. The mouse buttons fire the different energy guns.

You would be forgiven for looking over the previous paragraph and thinking that a first person perspective adventure game with puzzles and weapons that shoot one of two types of energy sounds a bit like Portal. I suspect, given the style of humour presented at various stages of the game, that this is not a coincidence. However, the main gimmick of A.V. is not portals, but rather darkness. In the game we cannot really see anything apart from a few vague outlines. The screen tends to be dark and we need to send out flares (the game calls them audio pings) to momentarily light up the room. This means we are traveling in the dark most of the time and we only get to see brief flashes of the room we are standing in and some outlines.

The idea behind A.V. is one that struck me as interesting. The whole TRON-like concept of being stuck in a computer and navigating by sound rather than sight is intriguing. The puzzle concept with energy guns (that worked so well in Portal) also seems like a good idea. However, there are some problems I encountered with A.V.

The first problem is that I had no idea, when the game started, what I was doing or what I was supposed to be doing or why. The game’s description does not mention anything about game mechanics and there is no introduction or tutorials. In fact, the game’s description is vague enough I thought the loading screen, with its flashes of sound waves, was the opening scene of the game. (Yes, I tried to play the loading screen, I had no way of knowing whether the game had started.) Once the game begins we are just thrown into a dark room and we learn mostly by trial and error. Imagine playing games like Portal or Halo without being able to see your character’s environment and you have a basic idea of what A.V. is like at the start.

After a while I got used to the controls, got used to the idea of navigating in the dark and the game starts introducing explanations for things like the energy weapons so we quickly pick up how to manipulate the controls in our environment. But the problem remains, we are in the dark. When we bear in mind that the only way we can know what is going on in the game world is to see it (sight being the only sense that works with soundless video games), it is very inconvenient to try to navigate platforms and puzzles in the dark where we need to constantly send up flares/pings to get a rough idea of how the room is arranged.

I was unable to get Steam to take any screen shots of the game and the A.V. page does not have any images, so the whole “not seeing what’s happening” concept extends into the real world in this case.

In short, I feel A.V. has a good concept. I like the idea of exploring a computer from a program’s point of view. I like the energy guns concept and the trade off between making noise (attracting attention) and staying quiet (while slowing progress). Unfortunately, I feel one of the game’s primary mechanics (darkness) makes it difficult and, at times, unpleasant to play. First person platforming is difficult enough when we can see what we are doing. Throwing darkness into the mix makes for a lot of flailing around and missed steps.

Game: A.V. Demo
Developers: FirstForever Studios
Platforms: Linux, OS X, Windows
License: Unknown
Genre: Adventure, First person, Puzzle

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