As a video player, I'm used to the fact that manufacturers promise me the blue of the sky. It is always the best game of all time anyway, besides it is an "immersive experience", always revolutionary and anyway, really, really great. I was really surprised by the mixture that waking promises me before the game started: Developer Jason Oda wants to combine action-packed combat gameplay with a "meditative self-experience". As a coma patient I find myself in the vastness of my own mind and fight against uncanny beings who want to hand over my virtual alter ego to a peaceful death. With the help of my personal memories, the title should become a special experience that has never been there before. Big words – as unfortunately shows, but with very little behind it.
Right from the start, I am asked a few personal questions; by gender, size and age. That reminds me of Google, Facebook and Co. unpleasantly. The promise of trust that my data is only kept in the savefiles and is not used in any other way is immediately shown. All right. I then cling to the warning that people with trauma or mental illness should not play the game to avoid waking up unloved memories. My childhood was not perfect, but I have no problem facing my personal demons – so let's get to the psycho-bacon! Waking promises to be an exciting to emotional experience that can hardly be more personal when it comes to these first few minutes.
In the introduction, I experience a mixture of combat tutorial and a query of my deepest desires and burdens. A strange mixture that doesn't really fit. Although I want to get involved in the experience, in between I have to fend off projectiles with barrels and boxes that fill the game world (i.e. my mind). This contrast of calm self-reflection and sometimes hectic combat interventions runs through the game as a common thread.
After a short time, an angelic being asks me to close my eyes and I start a dream journey: a guided meditation on old-loved places and memories, which is also used in psychotherapy. I am sure with Prof. Dr. Steam is in good hands.
That feels a little embarrassing in the open-plan office of an editorial team, but ultimately I want to test the game properly and maybe even learn something about myself. I should remember my first pet and how it gets older; how it greets me at the front door and I spend time with him. Then I can choose between a dog and a cat, from then on the corresponding animal accompanies me in a blue ghost shape. In fact, I get a little emotional, but then it's not enough for a dramatic, tearful burst of emotions. I am only 23 and my surprisingly lively, first cat is 17 years old, but still not mad! Obviously I'm too young for the game, or else the concept is not thought through. Who knows. Anyone who can only remember Goldfish Glitschi, Hamster Marvin or Boa Constriktor Würgi or who never had a pet was unlucky.
Source: PC games
Again and again the general meditations in the game are far too specific: you should imagine your favorite place in the place where you grew up and then take hold of the earth and let it trickle by hand. Unfortunately my family's old courtyard is paved and without an imaginary hammer drill I don’t know how best to let a cobblestone trickle through my hand. I would rather look at the weekly horoscope. There is at least a higher chance that the general fuss will apply to me as a scale than these "personal" moments, which are hardly based on my life.
What are you doing here?!
All memories, which the game asks me for with the same animation, become weapons, objects or companions. It can be nice if my cat accompanies me on my way and uses projectile cats to ward off projectiles. Often, however, my most personal feelings are simply irrelevant: my desire for adventure and the "nothing" as my idea of death are given to me by the hand, but could just as well be called poop and sausage. In addition, there are feelings (melee), knowledge (ranged) and belief (shields) in the procedurally generated game world, which make the combat system quite sophisticated. But how am I supposed to go inside and reflect on why my belief serves as a reflective shield when a series of projectiles hit me at the same time? I have to write off deeper meaning and meditation at this point.
Source: PC games
I was confused to horrified when I described someone important to me and, like my cat, he appeared as an astral projection to accompany me. Not only does this seem incredibly tasteless, it also stirs up a strong need in me to never appear as a dead projection in the game of a person I know. Even if it is deeply meditative and emotionally profound.
The whole game is accompanied by a spiritual-trans-focus-trallala-something soundtrack. Sometimes dark, sometimes sad and sometimes friendly, he hopefully underpins my hopeless attempt to meditate on myself. However, the calm atmosphere is disturbed. The screen constantly shines in glittering light, which in contrast to the dark level design dazzles and in the long run causes a nasty headache on my right temporal lobe. In addition, there is a sudden song abort on loading screens that are outrageously long. The spongy-looking gameplay and a choppy figure are just the cherry on the anti-meditative icing on the cake.
A very personal garbage battle
Source: PC games
After all, thanks to five different levels of difficulty, I can decide for myself how difficult I want my meditative experience to be. At the recommended level of "heavy" I go into my mind, avoid projectiles that are shot at me by astral objects and throw them back with my faith. When can I relax between the hail of balls? Who knows. Different enemy types are marked with barely recognizable colors, if I defeat them without hitting me, I collect hope and can open certain chests. If I am hit, all hope is gone and I get fear that makes all opponents stronger. A nice allegory, I think. The nice thought disappears too quickly as soon as I am asked to throw scrap around. I throw indifferently with the garbage at everything that moves and I almost wish for one of these impersonal mediations.
The boss fights are best designed: human beings with deer skulls move slowly towards me and at least chill me down the back. In early battles, they can be beaten down without singing – without the immersion, to which I desperately try to cling. As the level progresses, however, I fight against more difficult opponents and dodge hectically rolling, spiked tons. But where is the personal experience? If I stab "the monster under my bed" from behind, I don't know what it has to do with me. I had a safe loft bed as a child and looked after Pokémon more than horror characters who wanted to tear out my childish soul.
Source: PC games
Apparently, the developer who came up with this idea was not as lucky. Such levels are indicative of the deep gap between action game and meditative experience that pervades the whole game and leaves me as a player after a good 30 hours after I have entrusted my deepest secrets to him.
Waking has been available for PC and Xbox One since June 18.