Strayed Lights

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Embers
Release Date: April 25, 2023


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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Strayed Lights'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 28, 2023 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

Strayed Lights is an atmospheric action-adventure with fluid combat and an intricate world imbued with mystery.

It's nice to be surprised sometimes. That's the case with Strayed Lights, a game that wasn't on our radar but is coming to just about every platform in April. The trailer gave us a faint idea of what to expect, and the game description seemed rather generic. We got a chance to sample the upcoming preview build and came away with a much better understanding of what the game is about.

At the moment, the story is still quite mysterious. The preview build opens with a small, tired spirit waking up in an icy cave and making its way through a storm. It takes some time, but the spirit rests at an icy wall where they meet their doppelganger and engage in combat. During the battle, several rifts appear, and your clone splits into different versions of itself as you chase them through one portal at a time. Throughout this opening sequence, no words are spoken, and there's no text to accompany your actions. It is the same situation through the rest of the preview build, giving the impression that the tale is going to be told through pantomime.

As far as the gameplay goes, there are the standard 3D traversal mainstays of running and jumping, and you climb when you touch a ledge. The combat is where most of the attention is focused, since it is both familiar and different thanks to two major elements. The first is a reliance on the parry. It might be reminiscent of Dark Souls or its many contemporaries, but your basic attack is rather weak, and the fact that you don't get it until a bit later in the game shows how much emphasis there is on playing defensively. Aside from being able to incur no damage from an attack, parrying builds up a meter that lets you unleash a special energy attack. It's powerful enough to kill enemies in one blow, and it requires the successful completion of a Quick Time Event (QTE) when used against a boss.

The second element the game emphasizes is color. You can turn yourself fire orange or blue, and while it may not have any impact (thus far) on traversal or when you attack, it has some impact when playing defensively. If you parry an attack from the opposite color, it registers as a block. If you parry while matching attack colors, it becomes a parry. Color switching is fast, which is good since enemies constantly switch up their colors. Enemies have a third color, purple, and that's one where you need to dodge or block it, as there's no way to get a parry from that.

The combination of colors and parrying makes for a title that's an interesting mash-up of Ikaruga or Outland with Way of the Passive Fist. The preview build is set in a forest level that provides a good idea of how these mechanics play out. The presentation deals with lots of contrasting colors, as the fiery red and cool blue hues stand out greatly against a backdrop that still looks detailed but a touch muted for the important elements to stand out.

The music is both adventurous and playful to the point that the boss fight doesn't seem too menacing until the very end. Compared to some other games, the parry system has some leeway to it, so fights don't devolve into frustration. Combined with the fact that parrying replenishes health, and it becomes difficult to die in combat unless your reaction time is poor.

The game does not seem to like it when you die. Once you do expire, the game stays on a black screen, and the audio continues playing in the background. You can pull up the Steam menu and hear your navigation sounds if you're using Big Picture, but you'll see nothing. You can't close the game or switch windows via Alt+Tab, so the only way to escape is by rebooting your PC. Thankfully, the title automatically saves your progress, so running into a mishap like that doesn't mean starting over. It is an odd bug that will hopefully be addressed before the full game hits in April.

For those who are interested, Strayed Lights currently doesn't run on the Steam Deck, but hopefully that support will come shortly before launch.

So far, Strayed Lights is intriguing. The presentation is reminiscent of the Ori games, with contrasting colors and the pantomime style of storytelling; it's intriguing, even if it isn't all clear yet what exactly is going on. The combat system is what will really be of interest to people, as a mostly defensive play style is still a rarity in modern games. The demo is scheduled to hit soon, so players can have a good amount of time to get acquainted with the title as we approach its April release date.

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