The twelfth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2019.

Ludum Dare has a lot to answer for. Such as Exhaustlands (Sand Gardeners, 2018). It was made in three days so no-one should be expecting world-class polish here.

Let me be absolutely frank. I didn’t have the first clue what this driving game was about. And how could I? There were post-it notes everywhere, coloured stickers, a map you were encouraged to draw on… bugger me, I’m just going to grab the wheel and see if I can figure out what is going on. And when I write “the wheel”, I mean the wheel.

The children’s toy as controller was a curious addition to the original Ludum Dare game and I’m not sure the controller helped the Exhaustlands cause: it felt too contrasting to its somewhat darker theme and caused grief with some players. I was one of those players. Still, if you go pull the game down from the internet, you needn’t worry about that.

There is more to Exhaustlands than what I saw or understood. I engaged with it on just one level, as a driving exploration game. I was on the road, travelling across a dark, moody monochromatic map peppered with ASCII buildings. Travelling from point to point would take awhile. More than once I began to suspect I was on an infinite road to nowhere, when I’d hit a sign or a fork in the road. Uhhh, how big is this game?

The realisation there was more to the game came late. You could “enter” buildings and there was an overarching goal – heck, you’re meant to be fighting fascism. But the only memory I take away is a lonely drive through a remorseless, unrelenting darkness, unsure if there was anything out there at all. I should not be surprised to discover that Into the Black was an inspiration for the developers. (I was surprised.)

Some days you send signals out into the void. Some days, the signals come back.

From the page:

It is a time of war.

The RESISTANCE is dwindling, and the last remaining members take refuge in an abandoned power station in the heart of the EXHAUSTLANDS.

The FASCIST army moves closer everyday – unstoppable and hungry.

Under the cold BROWNIE COVE sun, members of the Resistance journey out into the lands to explore the area, and prepare to do battle with the approaching DARKNESS.

Space is running out, time is running out, faith is running out. But they can do this.

Interested in other games I’ve dabbled with? Check out the series index!

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