Destination Primus Vita – Episode 1: Austin Review

Destination Primus Vita is a fun game with a forgettable title funded through Kickstarter, one of those episodic first-person games that have always had the perfect combination of ingredients to draw me in. I love a good story; and one about giant water-thieves who lurk in the recesses of one’s cryo-sleeping dreams—but only to stimulate the protagonist’s relationship with her brother—is a story destined to hook me.

Destination Primus Vita – Episode 1: Austin has the player follow Austin, a scientist first and foremost. She’s placed in the unenviable position of researching the Shatters, a mysterious group of gigantic beings who appeared on Earth hundreds of years earlier, stealing the vast majority of the planet’s water. This was catastrophic for the environment, as you can imagine, and humanity struggled to survive. Now, these survivors have figured out where the water was taken, and they’re willing to fight the hulking shadows of the Shatters if it means they can save their world. But first, their AI puts them into cryo-sleep for the journey there, where a simulation is built for Austin to train her for the mission ahead: it is in this simulation that the game plays out, not the fight for water itself.

A Story Worth the Investment

If it sounds like I enjoy talking about the story of the game, it’s because I do. Austin and the rest of the crew inhabit a genuinely interesting world with a premise that I have, for the most part, not seen before in our over-saturated landscape of science fiction. The game revolves around Austin deepening her relationships with the rest of her team as they travel to the mysterious Primus Vita. The team includes, but is not limited to, Austin’s brother, who happens to be her lieutenant, a communications expert who believes the Shatters to be unforgiving gods (and is her brother’s girlfriend), and a guy who’s really good at taking care of plants, which is a valuable skill when there’s so little water.

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The game mostly succeeds at investing its player in the life of Austin, although sometimes either the dialogue being delivered or the way the actor delivers it isn’t always up to scratch, and I did spend a lot of time doubting that four out of six of the people going on a mission to save humanity would know each other beforehand. However, the secondary characters were so interesting to me that I want to play the next chapters already, especially with BrX and Hayao, the characters with whom Austin interacted the least—I want to know their stories.

The puzzle aspect of Destination Primus Vita dominates the gameplay, something I found refreshing compared to a lot of similar games which often sneak in a couple of puzzles while struggling to find something for their players to do other than straight exploration. However, the puzzles had varying degrees of success. A fair few of them hit that sweet spot of perfect difficulty, leaving you to figure out the clues and feel satisfied when you did so. Some of them were a little easy, even without the clues scattered around, but the real problems for me were the puzzles that were too hard or, at times, completely unclear.

Destination Primus Vita

Twice there were timed labyrinths with coded instructions on how to do them, but actually completing the labyrinth meant memorizing which directions to take while Shatters endlessly appeared with stomach-dropping sound effects that only added a layer of unnecessary anxiety to the game that at times interfered with the emotional arcs. Oh, and there was a certain puzzle that caused me to stop playing the game for a few days because of its difficulty—when I logged back in, though, of course, I discovered that the clue was in the screen before I clicked on the puzzle, not actually in the notes labelled “clue.” It was details like this, and a couple of instances of the puzzles not loading correctly (but not giving any sign that they hadn’t) that added some frustration.

Imperfect but Promising Start

A good sign for a game made from a Kickstarter is that you wouldn’t be able to notice its crowdfunded origins while playing it, and when it comes to the pure visuals and character designs, I wouldn’t have been able to. I loved all of the unique designs and, despite my natural hesitance towards the blue-gray metallic color schemes that science fiction games and media tend towards, I thought the environment that Austin explored was well-designed, with color used effectively to draw the eye in during important scenes. However, the animation is jerky and unintuitive, distracting from the surroundings: it’s unfortunate, because the devs made clear on their Kickstarter that it was hard work to incorporate this element, but instead of adding to the game, it distracts. A stylistic alternative to having the characters move has been done in games that had limited funds before and worked (such as having character art stand in for movement), and I think that might have been the better option here.

Destination Primus Vita – Episode 1: Austin is a little clunky and rough around the edges, and it is always a tragedy to play a good game that would have been mind-blowing if the developers had had unlimited funds. The puzzles, while usually fun, can sometimes detract from the central attraction, which is undoubtedly the story. However, when a game’s biggest flaw is that it could have been even better than it is, you know the developers are onto something. I thought the emotional arc of Austin’s story was fantastic, both narratively satisfying and visually stunning, and I personally look forward to playing the next chapter.

** A PC game code was provided by the publisher **