Phoenix Springs offers breathtaking beauty in a desolate neo-noir world

Phoenix Springs Offers Breathtaking Beauty In A Desolate Neo Noir World

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Take me to Phoenix Springs.

I didn’t make it all the way to the remote desert oasis and its mysterious community of misfits while playing the Phoenix Springs demo at Summer Game Fest, but after spending a brief time in Iris Dormer’s neo-noir world, I’m desperate to get there. I want to find out what happened to Iris’ brother, a man I’ve only heard about in strange, sad tales. I want to hear Iris’ voice articulating in my ear, providing brusque context for every scene. I’m ready to get lost again in the game’s sickly green shadows. I’m wildly curious to find out what awaits me in the desert. Take me back.

Phoenix Springs
Calligram Studio

Phoenix Springs is a point-and-click detective game starring Iris Dormer, a reporter who’s looking for her estranged brother, Leo. Her search eventually leads beyond the city’s crumbling skyscrapers and across the desert, to an oasis community called Phoenix Springs. Iris investigates the area and its people using an inventory of mental notes, collecting ideas instead of physical objects as clues.

The Summer Game Fest demo covered the game’s initial stages, featuring Iris on a train and in the city, only teasing the oddities that might be hiding in the desert community of Phoenix Springs. Each scene in the game is a work of art and Iris is its historian, revealing threads of relationships and storylines as she reads documents and picks up information from strangers. In any situation, she has three options for interaction: talk to, look at, use.

Phoenix Springs
Calligram Studio

Iris’ mental inventory fills with names, dates, places and obscurities as she unpacks boxes, searches the net and tries to speak with her brother’s former neighbors. Leo’s last address is a building that’s been boarded up, abandoned by its landlords mid-remodel, and here she encounters the people that have been left behind. There’s a young boy making a plant dance with some kind of electronic box, and a middle-aged man sprawled, unconscious, on top of a shipping container. They’re called the orphans and neither of them are up for conversation. On the other side of the building, an intercom houses a separate voice that shares the history of the area, filling Iris’ inventory with words. Selecting an idea allows Iris to investigate her surroundings with that information, narrowing her focus and often unlocking solutions. It’s a clean and familiar investigation mechanic presented in a starkly beautiful format.

Phoenix Springs is gorgeous. Undeniably. Its canvas is menacing — dark green backgrounds are striped with even-deeper shadows, while pops of yellow, red and blue define the edges of important set pieces. The inventory bursts onto the screen as a bright white screen with black text, individual ideas separated by delicate thought bubbles. There’s a papery sheen to the entire experience, as if it’s an interactive interpretation of a mid-century sci-fi novel cover.

Phoenix Springs
Calligram Studio

Where the game lacks color, Iris provides it via narration, and her verbal palette is just as stark as the game’s appearance. She speaks dispassionately and with a posh nihilism that would feel at home in an Orson Welles detective noir. Her voice is comforting and foreboding, and it’s a welcome, near-constant companion in the demo.

In the middle of a busy trade show packed with compelling games, I wanted to keep playing Phoenix Springs, and that’s pretty much the highest praise I can give. Phoenix Springs feels utterly unique. It’s coming to Steam on September 16, developed and published by London-based art collective Calligram Studio.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest 2024 right here!


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