Radio the Universe is a series of discoveries
The demo for Radio the Universe in Steam Next Fest is a genuinely transporting piece of work. I played it, and while I played it, I was somewhere else entirely. Somewhere glitchy and twitchy, inspired by Giger's wet metal insectoid surfaces, sure, but also VHS tapes, dial-up modems, Zelda, and the New York City Subway. It's a surprisingly generous demo and for a large part of it I was afraid I was lost. I never doubted, though, that I was well cared for. This game is going to be very special.
I played a hooded figure, short and surprisingly weighty, and at first I was just exploring sepia-tinged corridors, heading from one screen to the next, checking out the ornate, horrible architecture and revelling in the sense of loneliness. A swarm of static introduced me to the run button - without running I would be swept away - and a few rooms later combat came into play, a light and heavy melee, then a dodge, then a sort of shotgun blast that needed time to recharge. Enemies themselves, well... Beetles? Ferrero Rocher? Nasty things that zapped as they waddled and then stopped for me to attack them.
Combat has multitudes here, which is to say you can defeat the enemies but still mess things up quite badly. This is because enemies will only grant XP when they die if you hit them with exactly as much life as they had in them - if you reduce them to a neat 0XP, no over-kill. It adds a layer of what I'd call resource panic, or opportunity-cost panic to the simple business of staying alive. I want to kill you, but I also want to reap the reward. This is particularly true of the demo's bosses, one of which, involving chains, was one of the more creative things I've faced in a game for a while. I wanted to get rid of it before it got rid of me, but I also wanted to get paid for it, as it were.
Platforming is one of the final pieces here, I think, with a neat system that shows you where you're going to land if you jump off a ledge. It allows for proper platforming puzzles, where you have to think your way across a complex room filled with spikes and hurdles. These rooms will be flung in besides combat rooms, atmospheric spaces, bosses, and pieces of a recognisable urban world, like the good old green exit sign, or a payphone where you can... well, maybe best to find out for yourself.
In truth, this is how Radio the Universe works anyway - a series of little discoveries which show you how things work and how ingenious the developers have been at retooling fairly simple video game ideas and making them either more memorable, weightier, or more stressful. I had no idea what I was in for when I started this game, other than thinking I quite liked the title. Now I can't wait for the finished thing.