Chasing the Wind: A Gathering Sky Review
Sometimes a game pops up at just the right moment - when you have just the right mindset to appreciate it in its best light.
Gathering Sky's moment happened in between a surgery consult and a letter denying me a student loan - an intolerably hot day where running my desktop was unthinkable, and the only option was to cower in my basement with a laptop. (To summarize: stressful.)
This game took all that away.
Firstly because it is teeny tiny - a mere 356 MB that downloaded in less than a minute, and playable on my very not-made-for-gaming laptop (which makes sense - while it can be found on Steam and the Humble Store, it's available on Google Play and the iOS App Store as well).
The second reason is because it is beautiful.
And I don't mean just the graphics... although those are lovely, and lively as well. Your flock of birds pass through a swiftly-changing landscape that looks like it was made from a mix of mediums - a backdrop of oils, objects in watercolor, and swift winds in pastels. They might not be, but the effect is a unique and strangely harmonious one.
Utterly unpretentious, Gathering Sky (formerly known as Apsis) promises a meditative, experimental adventure about guiding a flock of birds across the sky - and it delivers. The debut commercial release from three-man indie studio A Stranger Gravity, the game is as playful as the winds your flocks follow, and an utter delight to experience.
Because it really is an experience.
Beginning with a single bird, with a click of the mouse or a tap of the finger, you can steer your ever-growing flock on a journey across the skies or simply sit back and let them find their own way through the winds and the empty skies.
The developers strive to move away from the win-condition requirement so many demand of games in order for them to "be real games" - and Gathering Sky makes the entire argument feel like a collective roar about semantics.
When I was first contacted about this game, what really piqued my interest besides the obvious (birds! pretty colors! swirlies!) was finding out Dren Mcdonald was the man behind the music.
No stranger to video game music, McDonald was one of the driving forces behind The String Arcade and has a permanent place in my top-of-mind when it comes to interesting and unexpected arrangements.
This game was no exception, and boasts an entirely original score composed by McDonald which was recorded live at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The score weaves the small 7 piece wind & string ensemble of SFCM with female vocalists Amy Foote & Karry Walker (of Ultralash) through six different environments that were designed around music.
Before you jump in to buy, however, be aware that this game is short - and they come right out to tell you so. The whole of it can be finished in less than an hour, and while the landscape changes, the mechanics do not.
If you are purchasing this game for a child, it should also be noted that this is a play-by-instinct kind of game without a single word of instruction. As a fan of the learn-by-doing approach in games, I don't take issue with this - and honestly, neither will a child given a few moments of experimenting.
The only time this becomes something of an issue is if you have to stop playing before the entire game is done. The game is split into six different "chapters" that flow almost seamlessly into one another - and in certain chapters (e.g. level 2) the music and environment will change dramatically as though you have reached another chapter before you actually have.
Since game progress is done by autosaving and uses a checkpoint system between chapters, stopping partway through and starting up the game again will take you back to the beginning of the chapter.
Gamers interested in the music can take a listen at one of the tracks off the OST here on Soundcloud. (I highly recommend the soundtrack, which can be purchased separately.)
Gathering Sky was reviewed with a code supplied by the publisher.