Survival games seem to be the big dig these days. Near Death is no exception. Brought to you by Orthogonal Games, the creators behind The Novelist, there’s not much lore to the tale here, other than your plane has crashed into the seeping, chillingly cold continent of Antarctica of 100 degrees below zero, where everyone but you apparently died or is too far away to immediately rescue you.
Taking place September 6, 1982, you’re in control of a female protagonist, whose name is Sutro (I think, anyway). The fact that she’s a woman was an added bonus for me — I always like to play as the female in any game if I have a choice. It’s kind of more or less an oxymoron this game was released in the blazing heat of summer.
Physically isolated and initially only equipped with a flashlight, your job is to explore the abandoned, dark research facility where you crashed through the first-person perspective, find whatever scrap materials you can get your hands on to stay alive, restore power to generators to keep warm, and collect assets for a snowmobile to make your escape. That’s the thing here — since almost everyone’s dead except for a distant search and rescue group and Jack McMurdo, the fellow whom you communicate via teletype, no assistance can be offered other than him telling the woman where such-and-such materials might be so she can survive until sunrise; which, over here, actually takes weeks. McMurdo’s your only hope, really, and sometimes when Sutro’s typing to him you will have the choice of writing one response or a different one. In a way, one could say that this game falls into the horror category, albeit without gruesome murder or something like that. It certainly creates a suspenseful, chilling atmosphere as you can only wonder how much longer Sutro can stay alive, in which the title Near Death becomes appropriately applied.
Don’t get too cold. This is your only enemy, here, actually, but a formidable one at that. I mean, I suppose in the real world hunger and energy could also be pretty big factors, but this game doesn’t literally take those into account. The music will intensify, you will hear her shivering, the camera will shake violently, you will lose the ability to sprint after a while, the screen will progressively became blurry and more blurry, you start to become deaf to your surroundings. Just pray that you will find warmth soon enough by going into a sealed room (I say sealed because, some of the windows are broken) and placing your portable heater on the ground. You won’t even need to use the heater if there is power in your area, so long as all the doors are closed. Otherwise, she’ll go into this mode, which I will call “Near Death,” (ironic?) in which the screen turns black and white, your vision is renewed, your sprinting ability is restored, your speed against blazing winds is increased, and all you can hear is the girl panting, panting slower as each passing second goes by. If you still can’t find a place of shelter, well, game over. It doesn’t help that as you progress, so doesn’t the speed of the winds, making traversal in certain directions difficult. Closing doors will become a chore as you repeatedly have to left-click or tap RB to allow her pushing force to become stronger than the wind’s.
Things like the heater and the flashlight use resources, right? Neither can last forever — that’s why collecting things like batteries and kerosene become important. And canvases and duct tape so you can create window patches.
Throughout the game you will come across blueprints. By reading them, Sutro will have the ability to craft upgrades for her flashlight, her portable heater, and other things she has in her possession, making them last longer. Her clothes can be upgraded as well, which I strongly recommend, because it will increase her resistance to the harsh weather. Rope poles can be placed on the snow to not only create a path in the blackening darkness but also make traveling a bit faster (good luck trying to make the ropes look straight, though — just look at the weird, jagged mess I made below). This becomes important later on as you constantly convert from building to building. You can also place light poles to mark important locations or to help guide you in the right direction.
The Linux version runs fantastic. It picked up my Xbox controller with no hiccups and it stayed well above sixty frames-per-second for the most part. In fact, in the game’s first patch there’s a Tux object hidden in one of the rooms that you can only find while playing the Linux version (spoiler: it’s in one of the rooms in Science). There’s not much that you can do with it other than pick it up and drop it, but it’s pretty cool we got some love there. Since the game was built with Unity I was expecting to get a fairly moderate amount of crashes — due to Unity not running so well with GNU/Linux — but I actually only got two crashes after trying to resume the game from a game over, and then after that it suddenly stopped. Never gone through a crash since. Props to the guys at Orthogonal!
Here’s the first few minutes of the game. I would have done a complete walkthrough but the framerate started to sag after an hour or so of recording.
Overall I’m very pleased with the writing here. It would be nice if there were animations for things like adding a new battery to the flashlight or adding kerosene to the portable heater, but still. The eighties setting gave me a refreshing break from the modern-tech era. It’s only four or five hours worth of thrills (you could probably speed-run the game in just two), but it’s still pretty dang good. In fact, there’s re-playability value now that harder difficulty modes have been added. The conversations the woman has with McMurdo puts you on the edge of your seat as she reveals just how close to death she actually is — just look at the screenshots below (but even so, she’s still got that sarcasm that adds a touch of humor to the game [she even makes a reference to The Shining at one point]). After all, she hasn’t had anything to eat since she got here. How can she lift things, walk even, after some time has elapsed with nothing to sustain her? There are times when she can’t even type right, properly emphasizing the effects of frostbite. If you play at night, turn the lights off, and put on a surround-sound headset (which I actually recommend the player to do) it makes the experience even more exhilarating. The only thing I thought was terrible (spoiler here) was the ending. Time for spoiler tags.
After she gets all the materials she needs for her escape, she hops into a snowmobile, turns the engine and headlights on, and opens the garage door. Nothing else happens. Not even a brief wall of text describing what happened after that. Did she survive? Did she make it back home? Has her sanity been restored? Nothing gets revealed here, other than some images of the map, with the music that activates whenever Sutro is outside going on in the background, with credits.
Perhaps the developers kind of hinted that they don’t want to make a sequel. I want a sequel, though. I definitely want a sequel.
Some more screenshots: