Hiding away in the not so subtle Tentacle area of EGX was POWERLESS, a mobile game that I had exactly zero prior knowledge of. In waiting for an appointment to play a game in the same area, the games representative ( the very funny and friendly Lauren Carter, who definitely didn’t question my games choices with snark and surprise…) came banding over and simply asked me if I wanted to play their game.
Well yes, yes I did. And I came away unable to think about anything else all day.
From Narratio Studios (which definitely doesn’t rhyme with anything), Powerless is a choice driven narrative adventure where all the power in the world has gone out, and you’re very quickly thrown into the mass hysteria that this would create (as Lauren so deftly pointed out, we’d all be utterly screwed). As I sat down to play the game on an iPad Pro I was presented with several choices, to get an idea of the kind of person I would be in this particular situation. I attempted to answer as honestly as I could, with questions ranging from if you could give up internet or television to more deep and introspective decisions that left me with those lingering curiosities and wanting to delve deeper into the game to discover how my answers would line up with the narrative branches. Powerless pretty much throws you right in at the deep end and wants to get inside your head as quickly as possible.
These questions are put to you by an AI called MAUDE (Mobile Assessment Unit of Disastrous Events), who will assign you a persona based on your initial profiling questions before landing head first into a powerless(!) London town.
You’re recommended personas based on your answers and in my two playthroughs I managed to survive just one. My first character, Abdul was caught up in helping a woman who was bleeding out. The game has a terrific way of ensuring you’re doing the right thing, only for MAUDE to come back at the end of a simulation to tell you that your patient died dead. I may have openly shouted ‘nah, I’m not having that’ and proceeded to play through again with a new character, Jade McKnight, who I decided was Irish for some reason.
Jade McKnight was a surgeon without electricity, and you’re tasked with choosing to quite literally keep your patient alive and let everyone else in the hospital die on their powerless life support machines. Did I tell you this game throws you in at the deep end? Yeah. It was here I realised the lasting impression that Powerless was going to have on me. It’s true in various TellTale games you play, these narrative heavy games are based on your own decisions, rather than what you think the character would do and Powerless, putting you in the shoes of a surgeon who simply would not let her patient die on the table was, I thought at least, the right thing do. Was it? In my mind it was. I’d love to play through it again and fall a little deeper into Jade’s story, I felt a real connection to her character in the very brief time I had with her.
I got back to my hotel after the first day at EGX and laid down, remembering all the games I played and how very few of them had the impact on me that Powerless did. The writing is exceptional, with horrendously tense sequences that really force you to make some brutal decisions. The game surprised me in ways I wasn’t expecting and had me aching to play more. It’s a psychological test of your nerve, your honesty and your bravery.
I’m glad Lauren came over and straight up asked me to play, I had a good time getting to know her background (she’s a former RAF Pilot who now makes video games. I was 15 minutes late that day to EGX because I slept through my alarm…) and greet her the following day like I meeting up with an old mate. The tribulations of Powerless made it feel like we were going through it together, at times.
Powerless is now available on the iOS App Store. Rest assured if you’re like me and strictly Android, it’s most definitely incoming, along with Windows and Mac.