We’ve all had minor revelations in our life. Things like “No one ever said to blow on a game cartridge if it didn’t work, yet everyone naturally did it.” Such realizations leave us briefly wide-eyed and sensing we’re a little closer to understanding the cosmos.
Sonder is a game built from one of those realizations. Specifically, “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own” (as defined by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows). You control all the characters in a drama that plays out in real time. You can hop from one head to another, affecting events from the perspective of that character, altering the world for all the other characters.
It’s brilliantly ambitious.
First, to get some idea of how the game’s scope and to play you some Alan Parson’s Project, here’s the trailer:
In essence the game is a third person adventure game, not unlike Telltale’s The Walking Dead. You interact with the environment and talk with other characters to change events in the world around you. Developer Kamai Media aren’t giving much of the story away but they say on their website that “The choices you make determine who, if anyone, survives the adventure that transpires in the game.” Suggesting all the characters are caught up in a singular danger.
It’s a fascinating concept for a game, a little reminiscent of Dead Rising. In that game you only had six hours to play through the story before the game ended. It encouraged multiple playthroughs because you could only see so much of the game in those six hours and different actions led to different endings. Of course, if you wanted to, you could spend the full six hours in the starting area and let the events of the game’s story transpire without your involvement.
It sounds like you can do the same in Sonder. You can sit in one character's head for the entirety of the game, treating it like a traditional adventure game, acting in the game from the perspective of a single character. Of course, that would miss out on what the game has to offer. Hopping into another character lets you change the environment and alter the story for the other characters.
Just imagine how many playthroughs you’ll have to go through to see all the different alternative ways of playing out Sonder’s story. Particularly as this piece of artwork seems to suggest there will be eight characters to move between.
“The goal of the game is to illustrate that judgment is heavily influenced by perspective- acts that seem random, irrational, malicious or even generous or noble, may register differently when you are put in the position where you have to choose to make them,” write Kamai. “Ultimately, it is a question whether any action, in itself, is intrinsically good or bad or is it simply perceived as one or the other.”
Another key mechanic for the game is the ability to rewind time. This isn’t a limited resource, you can rewind all the way back to the start of the game if you’d like. It gives you the option to try all the alternative options you like until you’re happy to progress with the story.
In a stroke of awesomeness, the developers are hoping to make Sonder both singleplayer and multiplayer. Having other players in the game making choices will completely change the dynamic of play. At that point, your control of the world is reduced and your agency becomes limited.
I can’t wait to give it a go.
Unfortunately there’s no word as to when Sonder will be released. The game is still in pre-alpha and the team are looking for a publisher. Hopefully it will be picked up soon.