Here I am, Mr Smartarse, thinking I know all about role-playing games and what the boundaries are - the lines developers will cross and won't. And then I play Torment: Tides of Numenera and in the first two minutes I am stunned.
What could possibly happen in the first two minutes? We're not even into a tutorial yet because there's no need to explain interactive dialogue. All you do is choose how to proceed. What can go wrong?
My character wakes and I don't know who I am, where I am or what I am really, but I soon find out I'm in a cocoon falling rapidly towards a planet. The cocoon is torn away from me by the wind and I look around me and and see my rapidly approaching fate.
I'm falling from a thermospheric height, which is a lot higher than Felix Baumgartner climbed when he jumped, and I don't have a parachute, so I'm rogered, I'm not going to survive - except I know I will because this a game and this is my character and we've only just begun.
I'm feeling reckless, I want to test the boundaries, so I choose to dive towards the ground, wondering what small consequence this will have for my character when the campaign properly begins. I like character-building moments like this, and this is my first proper choice. And nothing really happens, oh, except my body being ravaged by the speed and heat and all that.
Then I get my second proper choice and I'm allowed to dive again, and I'm imagining with a little daredevil grin the kind of entrance I'll make below because of it, so I do it, peeeowwww, and hurtle downwards. And then there it is, the boundary, the game's concession: it says I've reached terminal velocity and am miraculously slowing. I do a sort of pompous, know-it-all snort. Oh well I tried. And then I click "continue".
"'Slow' is a relative term," it says.
My snort is cut short. What's going on here then? "You knife through the air, piercing its veils and... you have no time for the poetry of falling." Impact. My skin explodes and my organs liquefy. "Your life was utterly and completely meaningless."
God. That doesn't sound good. I can't wait to see how I get out of this. I continue.
"Your story ends here."
"Most of your body is splattered across the ground. Your sole legacy to the world is a small crater near Sagus Cliffs."
That's it, I have to return to the menu. A Game Over in the first two minutes. I can't believe it.
The last time something that brazenly abrupt and unexpected happened was during a pen-and-paper role-playing session. But of course! Of course it did. That's what Torment: Tides of Numenera is, a role-playing game in the old sense. I just needed this kind of slap in the face to really appreciate it. I don't believe I've encountered a better Game Over in my life.
Torment: Tides of Numenera arrived on Steam Early Access this week. The game isn't finished and won't be for a few months, but if you're keen to give feedback and be a part of that whole process then it costs Ł30.98.