One of the things I personally enjoy most about games – the thing which I believe indisputably makes them capable of being great art – is their ability to create a world far more immersive than that of books, comics or film. The player’s agency is what makes these worlds feel so much more real than those of any other art forms. It taps into that exploratory part of your brain from childhood, that feeling that you can go anywhere and discover anything; the kind of feeling you had as a kid when you were taken to some strange new place on holiday, given the whole day to explore a forest or a coastline. When so much of life can feel like a repetitive grind, experiencing a new environment can be hugely engrossing.
When I was trying to throw together a shortlist of games I thought I might like last year, while languishing in office-driven cabin fever, I discovered the phrase “walking simulator.” It’s used to describe games which involve little more than walking around and exploring, perhaps with some puzzles thrown in (I never played them, but suspect this began in the 1990s with the Myst series.) Obviously it’s meant in a derogatory tone, but the idea sounds great to me, and it must do to other people as well, since the category tag gets heavy use on Steam. The Moon Sliver was one of the games with that tag that was cheap to begin with and slashed further during the sale, and at less than a pound you can’t really go wrong.
The Moon Sliver takes place on a tiny, desolate island, the sun hanging low over the ocean and the wind howling across the sand dunes. You have no tools or weapons apart from a flashlight, and no indication of why you’re there or what’s happening. As you explore the ruined buildings along the shoreline, fragments of text hover over the screen, and you begin to learn the story of the people who lived here, and perhaps still do – their fate is unclear.
The Moon Sliver is a short game; the opening text suggests you should set aside an hour to complete it, although it took me less than thirty minutes. The story is about as well written as you’d expect from a budget indie game; there are some clunkers of names and phrases, and I can’t say I was hugely moved by it. But what the game does accomplish is creating an environment: a sad, eerie, disturbing place of death and abandonment, the wind whistling over a ruined village, the sunken remnants of houses suggestive of rising sea levels that will one day swallow the island whole. (And it’s certainly very creepy to be expecting to be attacked when you have no weapons and all you can do is run.) For 99p, I got my money’s worth. I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend it, but neither did I feel my time was wasted.