I’ve always been fascinated with the sea. Fascinated by the wonders and beauty that can be found underwater – though I must confess, it scares me a bit too. Much of the ocean is still unexplored; perhaps my anxiety comes not just from watching films like Jaws at a ridiculously young age, but also from a fear of the unknown. Perhaps it’s not the sea, its inhabitants or the unknown I should be afraid of, however – perhaps instead it should be humans and their tendency to cause chaos and destruction.
Koral is a game that takes place beneath the ocean’s surface – and it is an absolutely beautiful experience. Cast, somewhat abstractly, as a current in the water, you’ll flow through 2.5D stages looking for ways to bring life back to the dying reefs. You’ll restore life, light and brilliantly vibrant colour back to the world under the waves – and you’ll also learn about humanity’s mistreatment of the ocean as you play. Beneath the surface of the beautiful audiovisual experience is a sobering, serious ecological message; throughout the game you’ll find unlockable facts about the ocean and ways in which coral reefs can be – and have been – damaged and destroyed by mankind.
There’s an undeniable, immediate sense of wonder as Koral begins. The Unreal Engine-powered visuals are absolutely stunning, with striking, gorgeous colours and wonderful depth of field effects giving the ocean setting an incredible vibrancy and sense of scale. The ocean life dotted throughout is wonderfully animated and it’s genuinely thrilling to spot creatures such as whales, sharks and octopi in the background. Flora and fauna populate several planes of depth in the game’s stages, giving a real feel of immersion in the scenery.
There are deliberately, hauntingly sparse sections too. Often desaturated – at least until you begin bringing life back to the scene – and devoid of life, with discarded plastic and other detritus floating aimlessly through the water. You’ll make your way through wrecked ships and the like too, all of this – along with the unlockable facts you’ll come across – hammering home the disastrous effect of humanity on the health and beauty of the ocean.
The music and sound are perfect complements to the visuals, too. Koral really is an astonishingly gorgeous production.
The gameplay itself is simple and mostly based around gentle exploration and straightforward environmental puzzles. Finding the odd spark of life amongst the scenery and flipping ‘switches’ (presented as natural parts of the scenery) or making your way through walls of toxicity and stubborn bits of coral is what you’ll be concerning yourself with in order to progress through the world. Though rarely taxing, it’s hugely satisfying to see colour, light and life restored to the scenery and the compulsion to progress is strong. I’ve encountered a few instances of being caught on scenery, with the only solution being to quit to menu and reload the last checkpoint – but, thankfully, checkpoints seem to be frequent and little progress, if any, has been lost when this has occurred.
Though there’s not a strong challenge inherent in Koral’s gentle puzzling mechanics, it’s in keeping with the relaxed pace and approach to its subject matter; you’re able to better appreciate the beauty and wonder of the surroundings without too much stress and – even when the game has its dark moments – there’s always something beautiful or at least intriguing to see and experience. It’s very difficult to convey just how wonderful Koral looks and sounds just via screenshots; in motion, it’s an almost peerless experience in my opinion.
There’s long been a debate that’s raged about whether or not games can truly be art; though I believe this has been settled many times over by previous games (to clarify – in my opinion – yes, they can of course be art), let there be no doubt that Koral is absolutely a piece of art; an interactive, informative and utterly beguiling piece of art with a strong, emotional plea underpinning the experience. Please, Koral begs you, as it shows you the wonder of the sea, take care of the oceans before it’s too late.
Thanks to Indie Gamer Chick for kindly providing the code for Koral as part of the Indie Select E3 initiative.
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