Spirits of Xanadu – Review

Posted May 17, 2015 by in PC
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3.5/ 5


Developer: Allen Trivette , Lee Williams
Publisher: Night Dive Studios
Release Date: 26th March 2015

Spirits of Xanadu embodies a sense of tense conviction that very few horror games pull off successfully.

by Jordan King
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Being surrounded by the unsettling silence and melancholic emptiness of space is a terrifying prospect. To face the consequences of having nowhere to go, left with nothing but your surroundings to piece together the pages of a story you might not want to see through till the end. The conclusion you seek may well be more terrifying than the isolated space station you find yourself confined to. Spirits of Xanadu embodies a sense of tense conviction that very few horror games pull off successfully. The minimal visual style and character driven storytelling work wonders for an experience that is equally captivating as it psychologically harrowing.

Clearly taking inspiration from classics such as System Shock 2, you begin your adventure in the seemingly abandoned research ship, Xanadu. The paranoia infused hums of the crippled ship being your only companion as you hesitantly make your way onboard. From the outset you are given one objective, bring the ship back the earth by any means necessary. The ambiguity regarding your identity and the whereabouts of the once bustling crew are the driving forces behind your progress. You will stumble upon cryptic pages of a ancient novella as well as psychological reports that slowly piece together the ominous disease that tore the crew apart both mentally and physically.

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The quiet and almost peaceful solitude of the ship you explore is fragmented by a series of androids and maintenance bots that still roam the ship, and will attack you on sight given the opportunity. One specific enemy will sprint towards you before immediately detonating into a fatal explosion. This leads to a mad dash for your own safety, entrenched by the unknown corridors you must navigate in order to survive. You aren’t without the means the defend yourself though. A generic but satisfying laser pistol can easily dispatch any immediate threats. Constant deaths as you grow familiar with the behaviour of your enemies can unfortunately feel quite cheap and frustrating. Such intrusive combat feels at odds with the narrative driven exploration, but doesn’t dampen the experience too much.

Spirits of Xanadu excels when pulling you into a false sense of security, the whirring engines of the stale ship startling you as you stroll through its many metallic corridors. The minimalist visual style pushes your imagination to the forefront of you how you interpret the unidentifiable horror that plagues the ship. Startling audio logs are strewn about the varied facilities, shining a gradual light on the fate of each individual crew member. Piecing together the crumbling sanity of each character is genuinely interesting, spurring you on to uncover every single snippet of information. It’s unfortunate that some questionably designed environmental puzzles hinder progression at times. As I revisited each location countless times in pursuit of a door code I found near impossible to locate. This killed the pacing completely and the tension with it. Sulking around performing the same old song and dance in search of a silly door code isn’t my idea of a good time.

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The slow and effective build up towards the conclusion mostly makes up for the occasional missteps, even if the payoff isn’t entirely satisfying. As you prepare for your voyage back to Earth the startling realization of what truly happened aboard the Xanadu slowly comes to light. But the truth is never laid out in front you, contributing a component of essential ambiguity to the whole situation. You will continue to question the truth of what really happened as occasional hallucinations and other oddities begin to cloud your sanity. Are you right to believe the infected ramblings of the former crew members when you yourself may have come down with the same dodgy disease? The seemingly open ended storytelling turns an experience that is mostly run of the mill into one that invites your curiosity to explore and discover. Sprawling through the otherworldly horrors you may encounter.

Xanadu’s biggest star is the ship itself, and the staggering number of ways you can interact with it. Roaming into the bathroom allows you flip up toilet seats and fiddle with nearby sinks. You could shoot some hoops in the recreational area or devour every visible piece of food in the kitchen. This slightly goofy disconnect lends the experience a twisted yet charming sense of humour. One that allows the title to deviate away from the generic horror tropes it deftly avoids for the most part. Stumbling across these activities feels like a natural tangent to the exploration that sits at the core of the narrative. The act of innocently plucking at a nearby guitar may lead you to come across an audio log, which could be vital in your search for the truth. Whilst tonally divisive, I appreciated the fact that I didn’t spend the entire time jumping at shadows, and found time to relax between bouts of tensely rewarding exploration and puzzle solving.

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Spirits of Xanadu is a unique stab at a genre that is slowly oversaturating the PC market. By adopting a striking aesthetic the developers have set themselves apart from the competition. A startling narrative that invites exploration and discovery overshadows some uninspired combat and somewhat unintuitive puzzle design. However, all these faults and more weren’t enough to pull me away from finding out the truth that festered at the centre of the Xanadu. My morbid curiosity saw me through the end, and I’d happily go through it again.

About the Author

Jordan King
Jordan King