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Post feature RSS TITLE_PENDING Review - Meta-Liminal Explorer From The Creator Of Watching Paint Dry

Check out our DBolical review of this recently released story-based exploration game, made by a modder fancying multiple-choice narratives!

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TITLE_PENDING is the narratively-focused exploratory indie developed by ComradeRay with his development group, DEVBEEF. Before their jump into the indie space, Ray and his team were sourcemodders and made the deceptively-titled Watching Paint Dry, which combines multiple-choice with zany, sometimes foreboding consequences. Read on for our review of yet another modder's successful jump into the indie scene!


Rewarding Liminal Exploration

You're a playtester for a game where the opening ambience is toilet flushing. The game's director natters away as you explore a low-poly environment and when you reach the end of the first level, the job seems to be done. Then...something goes wrong, and time resets. You're in a loop...now you've got to break it. Title_Pending is a multiple-choice exploration-focused indie developed by source modders who like their narratives open and their paths split like tree branches. It's the debut title of DEVBEEF, lead by ComradeRay, who got their start as source modders (as many do) and transitioned to the standalone scene taking what they know and making it even better.

Warehouse

This game is a love letter to the contents of many a Source game, with easter eggs telling of the team's background in modding Valve's famously fickle engines. This is a story told in levels designed only the way Source modders have learned to do both, and that personality is persistent at every level of the game. It's Stanley Parable, it's a meta-narrative about game development, it's a tense game with an omnipotent AI watching your every move, it's Portal, and it's...TITLE_PENDING. Let's get into unpacking what makes this combination of great elements a beast of its own!

Zaniness Up To Eleven

With a narrator straight out of a Tom Scott video and the flushing of a toilet, you're dropped into the game's meta-narrative as a playtester for a largely-unsuccessful gaming company's venture. You traverse incomplete levels with adorable imitations of Source's developer textures whilst the persistent narrator who is mostly on your side tries typing noclip in the console to get you out of sticky situations or rages when ERROR models fill the screen. Any Source modder will recognise the many references throughout, and as I'm a Source modder too for the most part, these were a particular joy to experience. But references extend more broadly to the field of game design, project management, and elucidate the frustration of a vision you can't quite execute with resources you're always short on.

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There's no combat in the game, though after you get a hammer, those with itchy trigger fingers will find plenty of objects they can smash with a satisfying thwack. The main enemy is an omnipotent AI who we're warned not to upset throughout. Making errors or walking from the beaten path can sometimes end in an unfortunate encounter with this AI resetting your time loop (and thus, your forwards progress). This is the same AI also holding hostage the development team behind its creation, and as you discover more and more ways to throw its plans into disarray, it tries harder and harder to tear you down and continue the game. At pivotal moments the AI taunts you, and near the end, the very game falls apart at the seams as you try to find the last possible way to free everyone in the simulation. If the narrator is a healthy inspiration from The Stanley Parable, then the AI is GlaDOS, always outsmarting you until their own arrogance spells their downfall.

As a result, TITLE_PENDING's gameplay offering is minimal if you like shooting, combat, or even physical puzzles - most gameplay is found in exploring the varied, detailed halls of the simulation, locating easter eggs and hunting for the game's wide array of achievements. The story and its delivery is the real bread and butter of the game, and though you can get numerous other endings throughout that inject additional replay value, there's only one true ending, and it's reasonably easy to follow. In that circumstance it differs quite heavily from The Stanley Parable, which generally sees you fumbling about getting the Broom Closet ending by seeing if you can but the "true" ending remaining quite elusive. TITLE_PENDING doesn't keep the player in the dark as much and any extras are to be found by making a conscious effort to leave the intended road of progression. Opinions on this may vary, but I personally found it to be a strength of such a narratively focused game as the story was far easier to follow and the concept better executed when the path of progression can be followed from start to finish with minimal sidetracking, if you want.

Stanton Soda

My playthrough of TITLE_PENDING clocked in at around five hours, though I spent a lot of time during that conversing with the developers and thus a more reasonable estimate would be around the 3-4 hour mark, provided you're not just beelining down the main story path. If you are, I guess it would be lower, but you'd also be missing out on a lot of what the game has to offer. A reset never sets you back that far, so don't worry - explore, discover, and achievement hunt, and the story will be waiting for you when you're ready. The game has twenty four achievements as it stands and not trying to achievement hunt I got fifteen of them, so the replay value is there in ample supply, and this is the perfect kind of game for that.

Hallway

TITLE_PENDING's wide variety of jokes, side content, and inspirations are a combined package and I'd say that, whilst fun in any case, it's other developers and people of creative professions used to the frustrations of things not quite turning out how you like that will get the most out of the game. It's short but sweet, telling a compelling story and raising some interesting questions about the nature of development and team-based enterprise. This isn't the first time this team has delved into those topics, however, so let's go a little deeper, and take a look at what came first!

Choices Once Made

The previous entry made by the combined DEVBEEF team was Watching Paint Dry - a deceptively titled sourcemod whose very first interaction leads to one of the game's numerous "game over" scenarios, cycling you back to the beginning to find the more accepted route. Much like TITLE_PENDING, numerous side distractions provide plenty of ways to reach an unintentional narrative dead-end, from untenable zombie apocalypse scenarios to global destruction events that are, usually, your own doing.

Screenshots

The comparisons don't stop there, with an AI running the whole rodeo in some kind of simulacrum of multiple universes, with your choices deciding the fate of the loop and of the numerous worlds created by your actions. It's quite the creative innovation on Half-Life 2's linear story with which a player has little interaction, and much like TITLE_PENDING, prioritises rewarding player creativity with yet more nuggets of content to dig up. We covered the mod in another editorial some time ago as a mindbender whose puzzle and lateral thinking focus puts it up there with some of the best puzzlers.

Screenshots

In moving over to the indie scene, DEVBEEF took several Source modders of their own with them - names I personally recognise in my forays in the community - and once again, it feels like a graduation. Watching Paint Dry was a sensation in rewarding player expression and so is TITLE_PENDING, but now with all the extra bells and whistles that come with standalone development. When it comes to taking an idea you once had and transforming it into something new, it rarely gets better than this, and in that way it's quite comparable to a review of another modder-made indie we whipped up for Remorse: The List.

Past Prologue, Future Present

Ray and the DEVBEEF folks have made something really special here, and for now they're watching the response to gauge their next move. Whatever it is, I'm excited to see it - the creativity abound with the team is something to behold. TITLE_PENDING is on sale on Steam £7.19 GBP/$9.99 USD, and if you liked the sometimes haunting, sometimes upbeat tunes of the game's original soundtrack, you can have at it for £5.19 GBP/$6.99 USD, or both in a bundle for £10.52 GBP/$14.43 USD (corr, a lot of options here, eh?). Will there be DLC? A TITLE_PENDING 2? Or another zany game from this band of talented modders-turned-indies? The way forwards is open for exploration, much like the game itself.

TB-PD

Until we know more, there's plenty more to be found in Matthew Stanton's development disaster!

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