The Descendant, Episode 1 on PC
The episodic interactive drama genre has taken off in recent years, thanks in no small part to Telltale Games’ and their slew of critically-acclaimed stories. With The Descendant, Gaming Corps AB hopes to make their own mark on this unique storytelling style. Telling its tale across two intertwined timelines, The Descendant shows us an interesting post-apocalyptic Earth and builds up the story of one high-tech vault built to secure humanity’s future.
The Descendant’s basic premise is nothing particularly new. Threatened with global war and annihilation, humanity constructs enormous vaults to preserve some of its best and brightest. Scientists, doctors, and world leaders chosen as the descendants of humanity are kept in cryogenic stasis, watched over by a select group of blue-collar engineers and laborers, known as janitors. The janitors’ job is simple – keep the vaults running from within until the outside world is ready for humanity’s return.
The Descendant tells its story across two timelines. The first is set during the events that lay waste to the Earth, following a janitor named Mia and her companion Silas as they struggle to keep the highly-advanced Ark-01 vault up and running. The latter timeline, set centuries after humanity’s fall, follows Donnie, another janitor sent with a former senator on a search mission to discover the fate of the same vault, the only remaining Ark that has yet to open its doors.
I was immediately impressed by The Descendant’s look and polished feel, as the graphics and voice acting stand well above what I expected. The story itself is interesting, if perhaps a little stale. The game’s first chapter is a bit short, but the detail is noticeable along the way. The game’s pacing also feels a bit off, as if the developers were struggling to find their footing in this kind of storytelling, but doesn’t come off as so poorly-done as to really detract from the experience.
Given that The Descendant is probably the first non-Telltale interactive drama I’ve played, it’s not surprising that it felt a bit stiff. The genre has its limits in some ways, and creating an experience that stands up to the finely-crafted stories that largely build on existing narratives. The lack of connection to an established world serves as a minor detriment, since it means that the game must not only tell its story, but also provide the required immersion to set the stage.
Despite these difficulties, though, The Descendant still creates a worthwhile experience. The game’s first episode is filled with tense moments and player-driven narrative that includes the expected degree of direct impact on how the story plays out. Some of this isn’t as obvious on a single playthrough as it might be in some of the more well-known entries in the genre, but there’s still a definite feeling that the player’s decisions and actions matter, and that’s incredibly important.
The Descendants may not stand up to Telltale’s nearly-uncontestable mastery of the interactive drama, but I definitely feel that genre fans owe themselves a look. Given the first episode’s dirt-cheap $2.99 buy in on Steam, there’s little reason not to give it a chance. Those who’ve decided they like what they find can pick up the upcoming Episode 2-5, along with a digital art book and soundtrack, for $14.99.