Could you survive in a world without electricity? That’s the central question of Powerless, a mobile game already available for iOS and launched recently on Android. This ‘Interactive Doomsday Simulator’ puts you in the middle of a variety of situations, leaving you to decide what’s right and wrong in a world that’s very quickly tearing itself apart.
Powerless was a game I played first way back at EGX, and it had left quite an impression on me. I remember going back to my hotel trying to wrap my head around everything that I had played that day and nothing was sticking out in a significant way like Powerless did. Before the game even begins you have to complete a quick ‘psychological evaluation’ which determines your ability in a crisis and what you’d miss the most if all the power in the world had gone. I went for hot water over a phone, which internal AI MAUDE (Mobile Assessment Unit of Disastrous Events), found interesting, considering the device I was using to Powerless in the first instance. Once that’s over you can choose from a selection of scenarios, none of which are easy to complete or a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of completing it. It’s fair to say it may take you several attempts at first to finish a scenario (particularly the Prison Guard, godammit it’s going to give me nightmares for life), though even when you do you have to wonder if that’s how you should have really played it out. This is what a game like Powerless does to you. It throws you into morally questionable situations which fundamentally determine exactly what you’d do to survive and keep those around you from harm, with every option a 50/50 decision. Would you leave a dying stranger in order to save yourself? What if you were a surgeon? Do you leave your patient that’s on the operating table to bring blood to other patients? In regards to these kind of decisions made throughout, ‘in at the deep end’ doesn’t quite cover how quickly this game forces you to some dark psychological places in order for you acquire a semblance of the greater good.
You want to feel like you’re answering honestly, as if that’s what you would do in the situation, but is that the right thing for the character? It boils down to those brutal decisions you need to make in TellTale games, for example. Yes, it may be right to save one hundred over one, but is that what the surgeon would do? Would a surgeon leave their patient? Would a prison guard save himself over the protection of his colleagues? Would you save a wounded gorilla? Could you save a helicopter pilot hurtling to the ground? Could you built a battery and create your own sources of power? Your initial impulse might be to just get the hell outta there and save yourself – everyone is more or less doomed, after all -, but the game will punish you. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve killed my scenario subjects just for wanting to escape. Throughout each scenario it’s like there is a secret third option that the game is trying to point you towards, and the further you move through each one the more likely you are to uncover it. Your ultimate goal is to reach the end of each scenario without causing any kind of devastation. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.
At the end of each level you gain a Survival Rating based on how well you coped during these absurdly tense situations (it’s only text, is that what people experience when they read a book?). The game judges you on your honesty, your selflessness and more, the more positive outcomes will unlock new characters with new stories to tell.
But that’s what keeps me playing. As a concept, Powerless is about as fascinating an idea as it is simple. In a world without power, do we remain moral? Are we too attached to our creature comforts to revert back to a stone age? It makes you think hard about just how much in this world is reliant on power and electricity. The stakes are immediately as high as you can imagine and as the individual stories unfold you realise just how horrific, how utterly catastrophic the consequences would be if access to power just simply disappeared. The team at Narratio Studios (which definitely doesn’t rhyme with anything..) have created a bleak, near-post apocalyptic world which leaves the choices of these individuals in your hands, enabling you with a very different kind of power.
What is worth mentioning is the audio, which is sensational and adds to the narrative in such a way, it’s possibly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in mobile game before. Each level includes sound designs and special effects, all of which add to the tension and bring you directly into the world and it’s a credit to sound designer Phil Quigley and composer Tom O’Sullivan that it’s as powerful (heh) as it is. The main theme over the opening menu in particular is gorgeous and sets the tone for each level, which adds the sound of people screaming, emergency services, helicopters and more. Be sure to never play this game in silent mode, and stick in those headphones. You’re not going to want to miss what the sound and music adds to this experience.
These are the lasting impressions the game had on me. From back in September when I played it the first time I have possibly been hounding Narratio Studios for the Android release, as the game launched in iOS a little while ago and I don’t have access to a shiny Apple device. It’s incredibly rare that a mobile game hits me as hard as this, seeing as most of them are nonsense. I’m so glad I came across Powerless, as it gave me something to do on my commutes rather than just scroll Twitter. The more scenarios I unlocked the more I delved deeper into this broken world, and I’m still thinking about it and I want to know more. I essentially need more content so Narratio, get on that please. What I’d give to play a full 3D action adventure game in this world. Imagine CyberPunk 2077’s world without electricity. Now that’s the stuff.
For about the same price you’d pay for a pint in Cardiff, Powerless is, ironically, an incredibly powerful experience, putting you in the shoes of characters placed in impossible situations where it’s up to you to make some very difficult decisions.
It’s going to leave you wondering if you made the right choices for days. Just like the very best narrative games do.
Developer: Narratio Studios
Publisher: Narratio Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.