This past week I trekked across a vast, primordial landscape, clearing it of corruption in a quest to reconnect. Yet it was not Kojima’s latest opus that swept me away on this journey but rather Spirit of the North, a spellbinding adventure from two-man developer Infuse Studios. Their first foray into narrative game making is a contemplative, captivating and occasionally clunky pilgrimage through Iceland’s wilderness and mythology.
You, a fox, a lone speck of orange in a starkness of snow, set out towards your unknown goal, a great swathe of crimson gesturing you to where the sky meets the land. You are soon joined by a companion; a spectral fox composed of blue light that guides you through the earth’s frozen belly before joining itself with you. With your life forces fused, each echoing bark and sweep of your tail summons the spirit’s energy, illuminating standing stones that awaken the world around you and open the path ahead.
Intelligent environmental puzzles have you raising and lowering water levels, riding geyser streams and sliding down icy slopes to progress. While simple, gameplay is gratifying and the gradual introduction of new mechanics and abilities help keep things feeling fresh. Your spirit form lets you pass through barriers, dash over great gaps and leave your physical body in The Swapper inspired doppelganger puzzles. Imprecise platforming and some aggravating timed sections do mire the experience a little although never enough to halt your momentum. Likewise, more expansive areas can be easy to get turned around in but equally, they afford you a liberating freedom to explore, providing the illusion of a less linear experience.
This landscape feels organic and ancient; precarious stone structures populate swaying seas of grass, ambling waterways percolate glistening caverns and all seems steeped in serenity. Spirit of the North’s fantastical vision of Iceland is stunning and, aside from the occasional flat texture, impressively well-rendered, making bold use of rich lighting and colour to drench each scene in atmosphere. Stellar audio design amplifies this atmosphere with earthy shudders, feral yowls and ethereal hums, whereas composer Joseph Gifford’s score, while stirring, is disappointingly limited, seemingly looping the same brief arrangement with little attention to the dynamics of gameplay.
Despite its beauty, all is not well in this peaceful land as a strange scourge threatens unrest. Red ash and black vines plague its heart, a mysterious blight snaking its way through hills and valleys. Purging this pollution becomes your duty, your spirit powers the only force that can repel it. Much like Concrete Genie, Sea of Solitude or any game that adopts the trope, purifying each area of the amorphous evil is a methodical and cathartic process. The game’s collectables offer a similar sense of fulfilment; restoring ancient murals and resurrecting shaman spirits, while optional, feel essential to bringing life back to this historied land.
Spirit of the North is just the sort of indie game I love. Gorgeous visual design and simple yet satisfying gameplay propel subtle, emotive storytelling through a well-paced three hours. Some clunky platforming, the odd muddy texture and a stirring but repetitive score only slightly hinder the experience. While far from a masterpiece, Infuse Studios debut title is an impressive and introspective journey that is well worth taking.
Spirit of the North PS4 Review
Overall - 8.5/10
Spirit of the North from two-man team Infuse Studios is a triumphant passion project. A beautifully rendered Iceland provides the backdrop for a captivating tale of companionship delivered through equally compelling, albeit occasionally clunky, gameplay.
- Gorgeous visual design, lighting and atmosphere.
- Compelling gameplay blends environmental puzzles with exploration.
- Emotive, minimalist storytelling.
- Platforming can be clunky and imprecise.
- Some inconsistent presentation.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
Max is a lover of games, fine whisky and dogs with soft faces. Often seeking out games Chris dubs “artsy sh*t”, some say Max has a refined taste, while others simply consider him pretentious. Wherever you stand on the matter, he undeniably writes words. His other hobbies including leading a cult, touching dog’s faces and telling everyone he is vegan.