By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Velvet Sundown is a new game brought to us by Tribe Studious. It is best described as a "dramagame" and is equal parts game and social experiment. You'll enter into the world of the wealthy and famous, taking on a role with the purpose of achieving your own personal goals. You won’t be given much – a few items and tid-bits of information you can share. Velvet Sundown seems quite promising and perhaps will prove that you don't need killing and gore for a game to be exciting and fun.
The purpose of Velvet Sundown is to take over a character and play its part in the scenario. There are a wide variety of characters and, depending on the scenario, there are up to eleven characters to play. One session, you might be the fit and famous surfer who doubles as a drug-busting detective. The next scenario you might find yourself as the bar-tender whose only purpose in life is providing drinks and stirring up trouble (as serving drinks gets boring). You're never sure what you'll be doing until things start, and even then you might find things going completely different from what you planned (or expected if you’ve played the game a while) – perhaps you'll be Cooper and find that Jack is extremely attractive and discover true love after a few drinks? The whales can save themselves at that point.
I've only had experience with a few of the characters, Cooper and Boyle being my most played. Boyle is definitely my favorite role to play, as he is often the center of the party and in the perfect place to hear interesting tid-bits of information that he can do with as he pleases. I admit that whenever I am Boyle, I tend to take on the role of the trickster, trying to stir up as much trouble as I can. Cooper is a much more busy man, with a goal and the drive to achieve it and is, in my opinion, one of the more difficult roles to play.
So far, the scenarios take place on the luxury yacht Velvet Sundown. Yes, that's where the game gets its name. The mood is set on calm waters with a beautiful sunset in the background. The yacht is quite luxurious, and the people aboard are good looking. Thankfully, the mood can be achieved thanks to superb graphics. I found myself often wandering around the yacht just to admire the graphics. Standing at the edge of the ship, alone and dramatic, is not hard when the sunset looks almost as good as the real thing.
I was pleased to find that the controls in Velvet Sundown are smooth and simple. WASD for movement, and left mouse for interacting with almost everything. Even if you're completely new to PC gaming, you should be able to master the controls after a single session in the game. I can't find any faults in the controls and liked their responsiveness. I can't complain.
As I said, when you play a scenario in Velvet Sundown, you are given a role that is chosen at random at the beginning of the session. Using the few tools available in your possession, you will navigate through a sea of others trying to achieve their own goals – which may include stopping you – while trying to achieve your own. It's the unpredictable nature of interacting with characters that have actual people controlling them that make this game so interesting. One session, you might find yourself in an intense mind-game, while the next you might find that everyone is much more interested in getting drunk and high rather than doing anything productive.
You might encounter corporate espionage, drug dealing, drug craving, or any number of things that can happen among the rich and famous. While Boyle, the bartender, is my favorite role to play, I still enjoy playing the other roles. One of the more difficult I've tried is Cooper, who is a popular surfer with a dark past. He's driven to stop drug-related crime which has caused him to come to the Velvet Sundown as an undercover detective. It’s difficult sniffing out criminals, especially when they know they're at risk of being caught and the only tools you have are your charisma and words.
Every scenario is going to be different each time you play it because the characters are all played by real players. There are no NPCs in Velvet Sundown. It's this key element that makes the game so fun. You will never know the outcome of the scenario in advance, and you don't know who is playing which character until the end of the session. With this randomness, you are never faced with the same situation twice and that's what makes this game so interesting to me.
Once a scenario is over, everyone who took part is thrown into the debrief where you can see who played which character and talk about what happened. This is one of my favorite parts, as people can break out of their character and can laugh about what happened. It's also quite nice when someone comments on your character, as you feel a sense of accomplishment from having stuck out in someone’s mind. I've yet to see anyone rage or complain during a debrief, which is a sign that it's almost impossible to get angry while playing this game. Even if you're having a difficult time achieving your character’s goals, you're still having a blast.
The Velvet Sundown closed beta turned out to be a fantastic experience. I can't wait to see how things change and improve as development continues. The random nature of the experience is what makes it so fun and until now the only things I've played that come close to this are Space Station 13 and the life mods for Arma II. The fact that violence (minus use of tazers) plays absolutely no part in the game is an interesting change. Unfortunately our key giveaway has run aground, so getting into the game at this point may be a challenge. If you find a way, the experience is certainly worth it!
Edit: We just received 300 keys. Grab them while you can!