Caligari Games showed off a side-scrolling puzzle game at PAX East 2019, a small dev team from Russia eager to impress players. The game has since released and it is as atmospherically satisfying as I remember. I have a soft spot for indie games, but one that uses hand-drawn graphics? Now you’ve got me.
The gimmick to The Great Perhaps is a lantern that the player carries, able to give peeks across time before allowing the player to traverse it (for a short time). Time travel is usually done is some kind of flashy, over the top machine kind of way, where a character or group steps through some kind of wormhole, so to me, I was very pleased with the way it is treated in The Great Perhaps. Flipping the switch between the past and present (which is a kind of ruined dystopia) is a constant occurrence, the player making sure the past can alter the future (or save them from it) so they can proceed through the levels.
What caught my attention most and charmed me to play again was a beginning-of-game adventure through a subway (active in the past, desolate in the present, except for the creatures). I was talking with a member of the dev team who helped me along to understand the base concept and a little bit of backstory, as I had picked up where someone else had left off (hastly I might add, as the beginning scene, that sets up the game, is worth watching). As I made it toward the midpoint of the level, I stopped to admire the art and take in my surroundings. The cosmonaut character, seemingly from another world, juxtaposed into seemingly normal situations like the subway gives the game character, and feels creepy in the present, destroyed timeline. (A haunting premonition of our own future? A Great Perhaps.) What drew me in with a smile, however, was writing scrawled across the subway wall.
This callback/homage to David Bowie is more than mere reference. Major Tom (Space Oddity) loses connection with ground control and is presumed dead, lost out in space. How jarring that would be to see haphazardly written across an abandoned wall, a reminder that he too is lost (even though the places he travels are familiar). Even the title itself is a reference, possibly to Renaissance author Rabelias’ last words “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
The Great Perhaps is not without flaw, however, an important piece of what makes the game special and real is the fact that it is not a perfectly polished piece. The dialogue can often get lost when trying to do one of the more active puzzles, like playing fetch quest for a drunk clown or restarting the subway electronics. Pacing of the game felt a little off, though this is really not a detriment. Instead, it seems more like a commentary of how life is random. We are in a constant juxtaposition of activity and thought, which throws our minds from past to present to future and back. Finding the time traveling piece of technology so easily, going from underground subway to outdoor festival, it just seemed like pieces were put together without a total overarching togetherness, just the way life is.
But pieces like this make it all worthwhile:
Is this a call to never forget what my past has done to make me who I am? Or is it an interjection of defiance followed by a command to put the past behind me and focus on the present/future? The dichotomic relationship between the past and the present within The Great Perhaps really makes both cases true simultaneously. The setting of the game and the mechanic compliment each other and the beauty lies in this arguably simple mechanic working together with the basic human want to explore the unknown and explore, in maybe a voyeuristc way, time that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Narrative and existential thoughts got into my head while playing The Great Perhaps, but I think that’s exactly what Calligari Games intended for their audience. If you’re looking for a unique take on time travel and a meaningful, narrative-based exploration game, I definitely recommend getting lost in the apocalyptic future of The Great Perhaps.
The team at Calligari Games is hard at work on their next title, which they hope to reveal within the next few months. (or maybe sooner!)
Special thanks to the Daedelic booth at PAX East 2019 for helping me find this beauty and to Calligari Games for an experience I won’t soon forget.