Can Androids Pray review - Demise of the Robots

By Dave Hurst. Posted

There’s a moment in Can Androids Pray which is absolutely terrifying – even though the entire game is a single, peaceful, 25-minute conversation, that all takes place one quiet morning.

Conceptual peril is a hard thing to get right. It’s easy to frighten people with a monster, or imminent danger. But scaring people with a revelation? One that has consequences for a fictional society? That’s difficult, and rarely done in video games, a medium that tends to run on action and reaction, leaving little time for little things like ‘ideas’ to be analysed.

Like most games, Can Androids Pray is preoccupied with death. Though not a single shot is fired. You play one side of a chat between the pilots of two downed mechs, on a dead Earth in the far future which has become the staging ground of an endless interplanetary conflict between the Mercury Protectorate and the Venusian Confederacy. Sounds heated.

The issue is that both of these characters are going to die, and there’s no way to save them. No win state. No last-second reprieve if the player is smart enough to choose the right responses. Can Androids Pray is not a game about avoiding or inflicting death; it’s about confronting death. What would you do with the certainty of oblivion – is it time to panic? Time to enjoy your last moments, freed from the perpetual burden of there always being a tomorrow? Time to comfort the person who’s also dying, metres away?

Less an existential crisis, more an existential discussion.

The script – beautifully written by Xalavier Nelson Jr., whose previous credits include brilliant 1990s internet simulator Hypnospace Outlaw – deftly teases your own philosophy of death out of you, and confronts you with it. It’s an incredible feat, whether intended or merely an accident of the game being released just as I edge towards middle-age.

I’ve always been afraid of dying; I’m sure everyone is. The prospect becomes more intensely real as I age. I daydream about the reality of it; how, when, and where it might happen, and how unfair it is that we all have to face it.

As clichéd as it might sound, Can Androids Pray helped me take those feelings out of their box, examine them, and process them. I’d be lying if I said it suddenly gave me a healthy attitude towards oblivion, but I’m fairly sure it helped.

Can Androids Pray at least makes dying look cool as hell. The low-polygon presentation is phenomenally good – like the script, it does a great deal, very quickly, with very little.

Vast, long-abandoned outposts and smouldering, recently quietened battlefields; stark, harsh shadowing; light spilling over the horizon – it’s a masterclass in looking big and vast, while also feeling tiny and intimate.

The game’s barely 25 minutes long, but it makes more effort to grab and shake you than most do in 25 hours – and you’ll be thinking about it for weeks.

A short story worthy of Bradbury and Asimov; with a sharp script, beautifully bleak visuals, and a soundtrack that ties it all together. Play this game. Then hug someone you love.

Highlight

Your companion in death, Beatrice, has uncovered a revelation about Venusian society that could devastate morale, and raises questions about the validity of the conflict. It sets up a philosophical quandary for the game, but also drops tantalising hints about the wider universe that will make you hope for a bigger, fatter sequel.

Verdict: 90%

Can Androids Pray is a healthy dose of existential anxiety in a minimalist, bite-sized package that will live in your head long after you’ve finished it three times.

Genre: Point-and-click, existential panic
Format: PC (tested) / Mac
Developer: Natalie Clayton / Priscilla Snow / Xalavier Nelson Jr.
Publisher: Self-published
Price: £5.75
Release: Out now

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