Atmospheric experiences can make for an engrossing time, but I need more than tranquil music or calming scenery to keep me engaged. Interestingly, the Embers-developed action-adventure Strayed Lights boasts a stunning presentation and based on its screenshot alone, that could appear to be its central focus. However, after playing a preview build, Strayed Lights is an action game through and through, and despite some evident hiccups, it possesses a lofty degree of potential I’m yearning to see fully realized.
The narrative of Strayed Lights is not quite evident from the opening moments, as I don’t even really know what’s going on yet. A few scenes near the being attempt to establish a semblance of context, but trying to piece together anything concrete feels mostly impossible at this point in time.
Regardless, storytelling was at least not the aim of this brief demo. After a bit of exploring, the player character is given a moderately lengthy tutorial elucidating the combat mechanics, and they’re relatively simple to parse. Essentially, players can perform a parry with a singular button press in conjunction with adequate timing to negate damage. However, you can also alter your character’s color to red or blue. And parrying an enemy of your matching color will simultaneously recover health and fill an energy gauge.
This energy gauge will enact a quick-time event activated by clicking both triggers at once, unleashing a marring spectacle. The general combat loop comprises those functions, though there are two other facets to note. First, while not all that effective, at least in this brief period, the player character can attack of his own volition without the parry requirements. Doing this action will also fill the gauge, albeit at a far slower pace than parrying.
When facing an enemy with a fraction of health left, I suppose regular combos are justifiable, though I hope there are additions and enhancements to it since it felt largely inconvenient compared to the transparent ease of parrying. The enemies I fought had fair telegraphs and patterns, so relying on those for parrying was enough. Contrastingly, identifying viable windows to utilize standard combos was often more trouble than it was worth. Then again, what I played here was immensely brief, only lasting a little over an hour, so I’m far from an expert on these systems.
Moreover, a dodge function is available and is necessary for a specific collective context. When an enemy’s color becomes purple instead of the usual blue or red, that’s a signal to dodge. There isn’t much else to discuss regarding the gameplay, but I enjoyed myself far more than I initially thought I would, primarily thanks to the enemy design. While the movement of the playable character is smooth and precise amidst provided inputs, the enemies are truly the core of this experience. Their attacks were pretty fun to react to and traverse, creating cathartic loops I could see myself enjoying for several hours if there were enough unique foes.
Unfortunately, the game’s performance was grievously awful. I played this demo on PC and faced a handful of crashes and intermittent slowdowns with no causes I could pinpoint. My frustrations were exacerbated by how this playable build was only an hour long, leaving me deeply concerned about the retail release. Above all else, I hope I was either a hapless exception or that considerable attention is paid to the title’s finalized state.
Strayed Lights has left me feeling decently excited for whatever the whole experience has to offer. Still, despite enjoying my time with the title while it worked as it should, I could just as easily foresee the combat feeling repetitive and unnecessarily drawn out if proper doses of variety aren’t implemented. With Strayed Lights set to launch for all consoles and PC on April 25, 2023, it’s practically anyone’s guess how it’ll turn out, but aside from technical complications, they’ve certainly started walking on the right foot.
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