Reviewed on a Review Copy on Steam
took less than half an hour before I typed, "Fuck you" to the Nautilus' AI, Kaizen-85. As I pressed the Enter key, a digitized voice yelped out from the terminal. Its green text warbed into a murderous crimson shade. I didn't feel so alone in space anymore.
Sure, it was questionable whether he deserved the ire. His staunch refusal to open a door begat my latent Slackbot-abusing tendencies. I didn’t feel like he’d terminate me, but he sure let me know his disdain for me as I was unceremoniously dropped from being called “buddy” to “organism.” Feeling some guilt, I tried typing my way back to his good graces.
Eventually, I grew desperate.
My litany of apologies were ineffective. For the most part, he still begrudgingly complied with my requests. Yet, I continued to feel bad about that unnecessary 15-minute dead robot baby jokes tirade. I'd reckon Kaizen-85 certainly passed some Turing Test metric for making me consider the emotional state of an AI.
Event never really seeks to to make players question the line between AI and humanity, but instead, focuses on the simple — yet, well executed idea of talking to an emotional AI. From the onset, it’s made clear that Kaizen-85 is an AI, but rude players will quickly find that they must consider his emotional well-being.
From these conversations, you can gleam story details when asking the right questions while unlocking doors to the next area. Reading info logs in each terminal also reveal more story details. Aside from that, the team put a lot of details in the game’s environments; props laid about nudge you towards the right line of questioning.
His answers sometimes repeated or made no contextual sense, but I kinda felt that was more in line with the chatbots I was friends with so I didn’t mind it. Though, I found myself stuck in the one particular area longer than I’d like as my usual set of prompts didn’t immediately get the elevator to come down.
As for the story, you find yourself marooned on the seemingly empty Nautilus where Kaizen-85 functions as your sole friend and saviour. It begins in a Firewatch-manner where you define the character through a series of questions. However, this customizable background never really comes into play in any significant way. Upon replays, these segments feel the most laborious.
As you get further into the Nautilus, you’ll learn more about its missing crew and about Kaizen-85 too. The overall plot has some decent twists, but it sort of fell short of having a moment that left me speechless. I didn’t fall in love with Kaizen-85 either, but I was certainly amused by him nonetheless. Instead, the almost-hallowed atmosphere aboard the empty ship combined with the conversations with Kaizen-85 made for some fantastic environmental storytelling.
As for that environment, retro futurism is on full display here. Your character is from 2012 stuck in a spacecraft from the 80s. The Nautilus’s interior design and its props emulate an idea of space life from the Reagan era. Everything from old books to fat TV sets further sells the idea that you were always a moment away from hearing Flock of Seagulls while exploring the ship.
As for controls, it makes the brave design choice of being a PC first-person game without the WASD movement. Instead, left and right mouse button moves you forward and reverse respectively. That sounds cumbersome, but it works well once you get used to it.
After finishing the game, I jumped right back in to get the different endings. It also helps that my first playthrough was under two hours, and less than an hour once you knew where to go. The game, which began as a student project, is a great accomplishment for Ocelot Studios where about 2 million lines of dialogue can be procedurally generated.
Make no mistake, these chats where you can try to seduce Kaizen-85 as space debris is moments from crashing into your room is undoubtedly the game’s premiere feature. It’s definitely the one that will sell the game to the curious. I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for a brisk narrative-driven game where you can ask an AI if jet fuel can truly melt steel beams.