The sequence is split into five short sections, each of which can be spooled backwards and forwards. Certain moments in time allow you to interact with the scenery, either by using the face buttons or shaking and twisting the controller. Finding the correct combination to unlock the next section is as close as it gets to goal-oriented gameplay, and there are Trophies available to make it feel more rewarding.
Control is slightly awkward, a fact not helped by the deliberate lack of guidance or instruction. The Sixaxis motion-sensing, used to pan the camera while the action is paused, is particularly sticky. "Roam through the timeline both forward and backward," said producer Rusty Buchert earlier this month, "Look beyond the frame of the picture as you see it. There are things hidden that you can play with, unlock, and even get Trophies for if you find them."
It's easy to understand why Sony wanted to reassure customers that they weren't just buying a fancy video, but it doesn't offer the sort of exploratory experience that the PR blurb suggests. Your camera movement is restricted to a small area just outside the default view, so anyone expecting to be able to pause the lovely images and move through them with complete freedom will be disappointed. The things you can "play" with are simply objects that rotate as you move the controller, while the hidden items are simply obscure shout-outs to fellow demogroups, visible only by manipulating the camera at key moments. It's unlikely that these unexplained logos lurking in the background will mean anything to anyone other than the demoscene faithful, and most users won't even realise they've discovered a secret.
It's obviously not interactive enough for most gamers, yet it may prove to be too interactive for the demoscene purists. Certainly, response to the release has been muted among the community, if the leading demoscene forums are anything to go by. Not in the sense that there have been masses of criticism, but that there just doesn't seem to be much excitement or discussion in general. Strange, considering this is arguably the most high-profile scene release in years.
While there's been plenty of praise for the visuals and presentation from the community, there's also confusion as to whether the "gameplay" elements, minor though they may be, discount it from being a true demo. Such puritan ethics are common in any niche scene, but there's an understandable wariness about the introduction of corporate entities like Sony into a subculture that thrives on its under-the-radar status. After all, it wouldn't be the first time the electronics giant has tried to co-opt an underground movement for its own ends. Back in 2005, the PSP began appearing in graffiti murals across the US, painted by artists commissioned by Sony. Response from real taggers was predictably truculent, with many pieces being defaced or painted over with derogatory comments.
Linger in Shadows certainly isn't as cynical as that misguided stab at hip-by-association but eyebrows still arched quizzically at its end credits, which briefly list the Plastic team members before launching into a long list of Sony employees. Such corporate intrusions can't help but chafe against the DIY demoscene ethos, particularly when the demo in question is the first to come with a commercial price tag attached, even if it is only pocket money.
Linger therefore exists in a strange new realm between the hardcore demoscene and the mainstream audience being asked to pay to play around with its peculiar concept. It's an interesting move if it opens up Sony's platform for more demos to reach a broader audience, but perhaps not if they have to pass through the gateway of establishment approval to get there. This experiment may at least tempt a few more people to Google "demoscene" and, payment aside, it's refreshing to see something so esoteric being championed in such a public way. You certainly won't see anything like this on Xbox Live or the Wii Store. That, at the very least, makes Linger in Shadows something rather special.