Sometimes--not often, but sometimes--I play a small indie game and I think "I'd love to see what this team could've done with a larger budget." Traverser is one of those games. Traverser is a game I want to make excuses for.
It is not a great game--but I wish it were. It's a game where I'm stuck on "It's not very good, but..." and after that come rationalizations. "...But the setting has such promise." "...But it's sort of like one long Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun level!"
Oh, and the most important of all: "...But the graphics are beautiful."
A tale of two cities
As far as genre, Traverser fits somewhere in the larger sphere of "Puzzle games that are sort of like Portal." There are no portals in Traverser, and the game is played from an isometric camera instead of first-person, but there's unmistakably some shared DNA.
You're Valerie, a girl who lives in Brimstone--a city under the Earth's surface. The sun died out somehow, forcing the last remnants of humanity to build this oddly-Victorian-era city closer to the planet's core. The problem? It's sort of hard to breathe underground. And one large corporation, known as Raven Corp, controls all the air. And all the city's guards. And everything, basically.
Valerie is training to be the titular Traverser, a guard with a nifty Gravity Glove that can travel between the upper and lower parts of Brimstone--names which, aside from actually being the "upper" and "lower" halves of the city, also correspond to the class disparity between the two sections. The lower city is so toxic that inhabitants have to wear gas masks at all hours or suffocate. People in lower Brimstone are understandably not happy about this, and are rebelling against Raven Corp.
If you feel like you know where the story's headed, well, you probably do. Traverser's story is not only familiar, but rather predictable. And full of plot holes--for instance, the fact that apparently it's a great honor to become a Traverser, but Raven Corp guards you encounter don't bother to use their own Gravity Glove. Or the fact you're "undercover" in lower Brimstone, yet you're a teenage girl with a massive Gravity Glove strapped to her arm.
Logic aside, the Gravity Glove itself seems like it should be fodder for some great moments. And early on, it is. Tossing trash over the side of the floating city or painting a house by picking up balls of paint is extremely reminiscent of the first few hours I spent in Half-Life 2 picking up trash and flinging it around for no reason.
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