Day One: Garry's Incident Review
Survival of the fittest in the world's glitchiest jungle
Posted by David Will (Quill) on Oct 5, 2013 - 10:54pm EST (60 days ago)
Day One is a game that every upcoming game developer should count among the ranks of their Steam library. Not – I must emphasize – because of its qualities, which are few and far between. Day One is important because it is a living portfolio of gameplay design, and the title is 'Things You Should Never Ever Do: Volume One.' It is a game to be gawped at, to be mocked in the street, to be publicized on Youtube channels for the sheer entertainment value of watching people try to fathom the machinations behind its existence. It is Plan 9 from Outer Space. It is Ride to Hell: Retribution. It is magnificently bad, and then some. Even so, there is something noble, even beautiful, about its stubborn refusal to simply phase itself out of existence. If there was ever an appropriate time to drop the phrase 'so bad it's good', this would be it.
Garry, the main character and player's avatar, is a gruff alcoholic pilot with a tragic back-story token enough to make even The Bureau's protagonist seem deep and complex by comparison. Taking on dangerous air courier jobs to numb the pain of his drowned family – or possibly the embarrassment of starring in this game – his miserable purposeless life takes a turn for the worse when he flies over a volcanic crater as it takes that precise moment to explode, sending his plane spiraling down into the unidentified jungle below in a grandiose opening cutscene that's animated like a claymation flick on a skipping DVD. So begins Day One: Garry's Incident.
Gameplay presents itself as something of a non-linear survival adventure, something akin to Man Vs Wild if they'd been parachuted into a set from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the thinly-spread survival elements peel off and fall away the moment you realize that you can replenish your thirst from any body of water, you're practically tripping over wild fruit just growing on the jungle floor, and you can create instant medkits just by finding fabric and feeding it into the crafting interface. Bear Grylls makes the whole business look a lot more tricky than it is, it seems. Calling it an adventure doesn't seem quite right either, at least not when you spend such a shamefully long time just mincing around the jungle without any clearly defined objective. There are missions, presumably self-assigned since the tribes-people you occasionally meet do little to communicate beyond painting strangely specific diagrams, but they rarely have any logical reasoning behind them or connection to the implicit overarching objective of 'get the hell back to civilization'. Why am I rescuing this Amazon leader? Why would I care about making a larger bottle when I'm always within a minute's walk of a pool of crystal-clear water? Why am I investigating this temple? Why am I braving injury and death in pursuit of a tattered photograph of my family?
So what is Day One? A scavenge-em-up? A craft-em-up? That's all the game appears interested in having you do, anyway. Most of the incentive to explore doesn't come from finding new environments – which rattle back and forth between nondescript jungle, tribal village and temple – but finding obscure crafting elements hidden in distant corners of the game world. The crafting interface itself consists of four boxes into which various items you collect can be slotted, and you could be forgiven if the words 'Mine' and 'craft' had edged their way onto your mental stage somewhere through that last paragraph. The difference here is that Minecraft just throws you into the deep end and hopes you have a friend on-hand to steer you in the wiki's direction, whereas Day One actually tries to incorporate the whole recipe mechanic into gameplay by having parts of them scrawled on walls, trees and rocks throughout the game. It's a step in the right direction, even if it is horribly immersion-breaking, but the recipes in question have vital parts scribbled out in the name of sheer obfuscation, so working out what they actually consist of is a mind-rending task in trial and error. And to what end? Most items you craft are just designed to assist in your survival, which is a completely lost cause while infinite pools of crystal-clear water and piles of fresh fruit are everywhere to be seen.
I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. These are just the parts of the game that fall flat, rather than actively digging their own grave. Day One's central gameplay mechanics can best be described as a combination of stealth and combat, both of which are – and let's be impartial here – utterly, spit-garglingly dreadful. You obtain weapons every now and then, usually under absolutely inane circumstances, but in the spirit of a survival game their ammunition is achingly rare. This in itself wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that it forces you to use Garry's melee attack, an action that is so horrendously animated that you will do absolutely anything within your power to avoid using it, which is an almost-admirable stroke of accidental game design. I am not talking up the state of this mechanic. It's like being trapped in a first-person JRPG battle; an endless back-and-forth where you and your enemies take turns to stiffly assault one another with blunt sticks. You will, without fail, choose to waste your bullets, your flintlock ball bearings, even your overpowered magical artifact weapon, rather than go toe-to-toe with anybody in this game, because beside this even the Quake marine's madcap axe-murderer flails feel crisp and responsive.
Attempting to prowl through the jungle undergrowth or the temple corridors is equally broken, naturally. You can't sneak around anything except human enemies, but the only thing that seems to contribute to their alertness to your presence is line-of-sight, so you can throw a birthday party with a few frantic tussles with hungry panthers behind their backs and they're still unlikely to notice. Stealth kills are possible, though the definition of 'possible' is stretched somewhat by how shy the obligatory contextual button press can be whenever your target is on an awkward slope, or not quite at the right angle, or, you know, moving. This results in a number of fantastic sequences wherein you're practically leaning on an oblivious possessed tribesman, hoping desperately for the icon to flash up long enough to execute the bizarre kill animation.