Science Horizons Survival was a primitive ZX Spectrum game released in 1984. By assuming the role of a Fly, Mouse, Butterfly, Robin, Hawk or Lion, the principles of ecology could be sampled through the interdependence of their environment.
Diagrammatic images however failed to convey the hopelessness of scrambling in the lower echelons of the food chain. Chess-like square occupation was the only interaction; a blip signifying that your animal made a successful hunt or had in fact been hunted. This was in conflict with the instruction booklet that detailed greater ambitions. The software of course could not compute these nuances and like so many games of its time; your imagination had to generate the content missing from the context.
Natures scramble for existence has been explored by contemporary developers of course; Might & Delight with Shelter, Krillbite’s; The Plan and Tokyo Jungle developed by Sony’s Japan studio.
But here, the Vienna based Broken Rules delivers the principles of ecology through an astonishing triangular aesthetic; powered by their in-house Ginkgo engine. The Secrets of Raetikon captures the insurmountable struggle of a bird that is not only bullied by predators but oppressed by its environment. In many ways it is about finding resolve in the bird’s fragility.
Flight is the main allure and its playfulness accentuates the tranquillity of the Alpine setting. The amusement of darting through tree foliage and riding the wind radiates innocence through the forest. Danger however is prevalent; without warning you realise the birds place in the food chain is insubstantial; the fowl can be clawed out of the sky by marauding falcons, buzzards and crows. These can smash you into a nearby rock face or drag you into razor like thistles, attempting to break free is futile as you flap helplessly in the beak of a more formidable vertebrate. There are multiple ways of overcoming antagonists, many of which are faster, stronger and more resilient; malicious predators cannot be overpowered but can be distracted by luring another animal into its territory. Other ways are to instigate a chase, coercing them into thorn bushes or prompting landslides by tugging rocks away from ledges. A sense of empowerment comes from wielding nature itself; plant alga can be fished from waters. This barbed vine is lashed around like a medieval instrument and seeking refuge suddenly turns to incursion; visceral confrontations flow intuitively as you change tactics on the fly.
The sprawling Alps exclude a map, whether it is added later on or not will have ramifications that change the experience. The layout of the world at present is extensive but map-less exploration feels fresh and captures the purity of adventuring. Looking for an undiscovered area on a diagram forgoes the revelations of curiosity but obviously the benefit is not getting lost.
Raetikon’s ecology is rich enough to endure as a study of an organic nature cycle but Broken Rules mixes a fountain of imagination with their triangular palatte. Ancient mechanisms lay dormant waiting to be revived, solid rock contains flickering glitches; suggesting the impenetrable are facades for hidden caches. Many of the Secrets in Raetikon should be discovered without illumination but highlights include the anxiety inducing Lynx which prowls with an imposingly brutal demeanour and the stoic forest; which becomes magically animated and adds another dynamic to the journey. Raetikon delivers ecology with equal ferocity and sedateness which can (and must) be used against itself and with experimentation you realize what can help or hinder.
This is an Alpha build so polish and fine tuning will not doubt enhance everything to a greater level of immersion as well as introducing more inventive ways of utilizing nature. Until then this is an exceptional piece of unique work that should be watched very carefully.