I have never been a huge fan of adventure games outside of Telltale’s magnificent take on The Walking Dead, nor have I digested puzzle games at the same rate I consume other genres and it just so happens that Playerless: One Button Adventure is an interesting take on both.
Debugging a game within a game
Playerless: One Button Adventure embarks the player on a journey of fourth wall breaking intrigue as you take on the role of The Navigator and help aid the debug unit inside a video game world. That’s right, this is a game within a game.
The game starts in first person, presumably as a citizen of the in-game world going about their daily business before a critical error hits. Taking the role of The Navigator it is your job to aid the debug unit in its quest to fix the game.
It is not immediately apparent who The Navigator is or their role in the overarching story, however the debug unit is aware of The Navigator’s existence and often breaks the fourth wall with a series of quips and even attempting to hide from The Navigator in a bathtub. In the beginning, the debug unit questions its existence by asking is this a game? Before telling The Navigator everything of importance will be marked and to guide the debug unit to its ultimate goal of fixing the mess that has been created. Could The Navigator be a real world programmer?
Initially, I was skeptical of what challenges would present themselves based on the simple one button control scheme as other titles often introduce new mechanics in the form of skills, enemies, traps or combos to give a sense of progression – something that was not inherently possible here due to the limited control scope. For example, it is not possible to directly control movement of the debug unit without interacting with one of the set button prompts.
Playerless: One Button Adventure features a charming, light-hearted aesthetic based in one screen rooms and set locations with a fixed camera that allowed me to take in everything I needed to progress as all information was presented to me as I was left to my own devices to solve each puzzle.
In true adventure game style, Playerless: One Button Adventure features quirky humor through its dialogue and puzzles, one of which required me to guide the debug unit in to removing a rubber duck from a set of gears to literally get the gears rolling; both in a gameplay and literal sense. This is the first, extremely basic puzzle that is blended smoothly in to the adventure-style of gameplay and eased me in to the games world. Literally setting the game in motion.
I was left surprised by challenging puzzles that required logical thinking; one particular puzzle seen me attempting to move an exit hatch on the floor to a specific location, fixing its in-game function once more. I had a set of three buttons to interact with that would move the exit hatch in three specific patterns along a grid floor, it wasn’t immediately apparent as to what I was to do or how to approach this particular challenge before figuring out what the game wanted me to do. For some, this might prove frustrating, however if you are used to the hands off approach of adventure titles and enjoy puzzles you might have an easier time than I. One particular moment during this puzzle left me giggling like a child as I placed the exit hatch below a detective who swiftly fell through the floor to his doom, it would be good to think that actions like this have an impact later in the game.
The most glouriousest police station in all of Tacit Island
I like my adventure games either bursting at the seams with humor or encompassing a heart-wrenching, serious story that gets me so invested in the world that I don’t want to leave. Playerless: One Button Adventure wields its humor on its sleeve and is never afraid to show it with quirky one-liner quips and hilarious interactions between characters. When I first met Vatti, the games caretaker in the library and as we were in the midst of discussing our plans to fix the game, the librarian yelps please be quiet, this is a library not a flea market! While Vatti retorts that the books don’t even have names as the game leans heavily in to its roots of this is a game within a game. Vatti is a character I have my suspicions of as her shifty nature translates well through the text dialogue. Moments like this are what make the adventure game sections enjoyable experiences.
Gustav is introduced early on and is hellbent on stopping Vatti’s plans, she even goes as far to tell us to stay away from him and ignore everything he says – If it was up to me, I would be quietly weary of each character. The poor debug unit only wants to fix the game and is suddenly caught in a chess battle, being roped around by two seemingly deceitful characters. I suppose I will need to wait for the full release to see how this pans out!
Sadly, the audio leaves a lot to be desired as a song I once found pleasing turns grating as I am forced to listen to it for the 20th time in the small block I had access to. This can get particularly bad when stuck on a puzzle. Other than music, there is a severe lack of audio especially when interacting with objects which didn’t let me get as absorbed in to the world of Playerless as I would have liked.
I had a difficult time adjusting to the control scheme where I caught myself clicking to move multiple times and was attempting to select different interactable objects. This eventually wore off as I became accustomed to the simple yet intuitive one-button interactivity with a singular press acts as an object select while holding it down will allow the debug unit to interact with it. From my understanding, there is no set button to press which will allow players to use whatever is most comfortable.
I enjoyed the first Act of Playerless: One Button Adventure and was left giggling at the fourth-wall breaking humor. With a simplistic yet intuitive control scheme and charming dialogue, this is one that adventure game fans should keep an eye on.
Please keep in mind that my experiences are extrapolated from a very small portion of the game and that everything is subject to change as Moonlit ramp up development for a Q2 2019 release.