In a conference about wars previous, current and future, sports activities video games and fantasy worlds set far, far-off from our personal, one recreation stood out to me with its sturdy grounding in actuality and even stronger message of anti-bullying. 

It’s known as Concrete Genie and whereas it didn’t get a trailer throughout Sony’s keynote, it’s one thing I couldn’t get sufficient of on the present. So how precisely did a recreation about a young person with an outsized paint brush enthrall me? 

Whereas troopers are essential to retaining the world protected and safe, and sporting occasions maintain me entertained after lengthy days and nights on the workplace, they’re not the very best illustration of my life. I’ve by no means fought on a battlefield, and sports activities, properly, these aren’t my forte. 

However being a inventive child – the type who favored to write down, create and play and get picked on after and through college – that’s who I used to be and in some ways nonetheless am.

For folks like me, Concrete Genie is that little window into the previous – to assist jog your reminiscence for what it was wish to be enjoyable and artistic in a world that appeared scary and glum. The enemies aren’t aliens that crashed on earth however actual bullies that attempt to steal your creativity, figuratively and actually, by taking away your inventive instruments.

It’s a recreation that’s deeper than it lets on, and one that may simply supply the very best message on a showfloor bursting with explosions, gunshots and the sounds of clashing swords.

Making the world a greater place, one mural at a time

Armed with an aspirational drive to make this world just a little brighter, Concrete Genie places you within the footwear of Ash, a teenage boy dwelling in a depressed city known as Denska. Denska was a beautiful, industrious metropolis (very like my hometown of Buffalo, New York) however an environmental disaster shut down the fishing trade and put a funk over the city. Now, darkness actually clings to the buildings and strings of lights sit dormant alongside the partitions of alleys. 

However Ash needs to repair this – he loves his city and he needs to assist restore it to the way in which it was. The way in which he’ll do it’s by way of his magic paintbrush that may create murals on the edges of the buildings, illuminating lights round city and driving out the darkness. To attract murals, you’ll press the touchpad and choose from a sequence of template sketches (in our demo, nature scenes like grassy fields, dandelion patches and pine tree forests), after which use the DualShock four sixaxis controller to color the facet of the constructing.

To assist him are the eponymous genies, creatures from Ash’s sketchbook that assist him cleanse the darkness. The genies, the builders say, symbolize the chums Ash needs he had in actual life. They’re supportive, useful and joyful – identical to he’s. 

Just like the murals themselves, you’ll draw every of the genies your self utilizing the touchpad and six-axis succesful DualShock four controller. You’ll get sketches of recent genies as you progress all through the sport after re-collecting pages from the sketchbook (extra on this in a second) however every genie may be made to look completely different – relying on how they’re drawn. 

Drawing them horizontally makes them a quadruped, whereas drawing them vertically makes them a biped. You possibly can add horns, tales and flowery outcrops to their our bodies and, after they’re drawn, you may convey them to life by approaching them and urgent Triangle. 

Whereas the genies might help Ash by eradicating obstacles for him, they’ll’t assist Ash along with his actual world issues: bullies. 

I’m not crying, you’re crying

The bullies play a key function within the story proper from the outset: After they first discover Ash, they take his sketchbook, tear out the pages and scatter them. With out pages, Ash can’t draw the murals, and so that you’ll have to re-collect them in your journey to set the city proper.

Equally, when Ash runs into the bullies, they’ll encircle him and take a look at to remove his brush. In the event that they pry it away, they’ll throw it excessive up on the rooftops earlier than pushing Ash to the bottom. Genies, whereas all highly effective in Ash’s creativeness, desaturate when the bullies are close to and merely look on as Ash is mocked and abused. 

It’s a gut-wrenching mechanic, to make sure, however one which speaks volumes about what it feels wish to be bullied.

Importantly, there aren’t any controls for Ash to struggle again. There’s no assault button, for instance, and thus Ash’s solely protection is to run and conceal. Whereas bullies personal the streets, they by no means go up on the rooftops which act as a form of protected haven for Ash.

The builders are paying additional shut consideration to how the bullies look and act. They decide on Ash, they inform me, as a result of they don’t have the identical creativeness he does. Whereas Ash needs the world to be vibrant, vibrant and colourful, the bullies are glad to maintain issues darkish, miserable and intimidating.

This comes by way of within the recreation’s handcrafted visuals that sit someplace between conventional CG and virtually stop-motion animation. They give the impression of being attractive on a PS4 Professional – although the sport’s nonetheless firmly in improvement. Throughout our demo we seen some dropped frames which detract from the aesthetic Pixelopus, the sport’s developer, is making an attempt to construct. However these will hopefully be ironed out by the point the sport comes out – hopefully, in line with builders, later this yr.

When it comes out, my hope is that this indie charmer might be brazenly accepted by the gaming group – as who higher can relate to the themes of bullies than these of us who grew up liking video games earlier than their comeuppance within the early Aughts?

Till then, the sport’s trailers function stiff reminders of the results of bullying – the tears which might be shed once we’re alone and the sheer malice of bullies making an attempt to discourage inventive varieties. These themes are overflowing from Concrete Genie, a title that simply captures the zeitgeist round bullying in a means few different video games have.

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