Look. I really like Ben Chandler’s work, and I’m going to continue trying everything he’s created, worked on, touched, raised an eyebrow at, farted nearby, etc, and hopefully that doesn’t come across as too obsessive. I think his painting skills rock and have greatly improved over the years based on what the recently redone and re-released The Shivah and upcoming Blackwell Epiphany look like, and his own stories and characters are generally light-hearted, but with enough charm and whimsy to not fall directly in the unnecessarily saccharine category. To date, I’ve played the following Chandler joints:
- Eternally Us
- Annie Android: Automated Affection
- Trance-Pacific (haven’t written about this yet as I was unable to get out of the very first room, unfortunately)
- Falling Skywards
- Ben Chandler: Paranormal Investigator
Search around Grinding Down enough, and you’ll probably find some words–and maybe a comic or two–I’ve written about a number of those listed above.
Which brings us up to speed with ~airwave~ – I Fought the Law, and the Law One, a very strange title, but I liken it to some faded t-shirt-wearing indie band trying to be all zany and out there with their debut album name, to catch people’s attention. The good news, for those that remember, is that I’m a sucker for oddly named entities. I’m also not pulling that music metaphor from the nethervoid, as music is the central theme to ~airwave~ One (my shorthand), both from a plot point to the world-building. See, Elodie Major has been running a small, independent radio station called Airwave Radio with her friend Zak for about five years now, creating a strong following with the people of the appropriately named town Wave. However, mainstream record labels are pressuring Elodie to play more “poppy” tunes, and she can only resist for so long. Down the road, a band scheduled to play is being put out to pasture by some man toting legal papers.
~airwave~ One is not a big game, but it has big ambitions. Namely, the radio. See, even though Elodie is out and about in Wave chatting up locals and solving puzzles, the show must still go on, with her friend Zak taking over. The radio station never stops playing, so your soundtrack for the entire game is covered, though it eventually does loop. I’d estimate that maybe about an hour and change of music and pithy commentary is available to listen to–and it’s all seriously fantastic. Yup, even Zak’s story about going to the market for a cucumber. I later reached out to Chandler on Twitter to get a list of all the bands so I could look up some of their tunes, and he revealed to me that all the music in the game comes from “imaginary bands by two people (and some of their friends in places).” Yowza. Talk about awesome, and talk about immersion. It’s a “live” radio station, too, meaning you can turn it off and on later to have missed stuff; that said, just never turn it off.
Another aspect of ~airwave~ One that I really loved was seeing all the record shop-like dialogue about fake bands. A large part of my daily life is randomly thinking about fun, silly band names when you say or hear a certain phrase or pairing of words, and so backtracking was actually a treat, as I got to read what X band was up to in this fantasy land. Everyone has a story or question to ask Elodie. It’s like my own personal point-and-click High Fidelity, and I’m Barry.
From a gameplay perspective, the puzzles are overall rather weak and straightforward. You pick up only a small number of items, leading to a limited number of combinations. I found myself eventually stuck on one piece of pixel-hunting for a wheel’s cable. There’s also a “pick a drink” puzzle that might seem rather daunting, but is solvable with some decent guesswork and basic trial and error tactics. Otherwise, nothing groundbreaking, but I think the focus of the gameplay should actually be on the atmosphere and the music and the relationships people have with and around it.
If the number in the title didn’t give it away, ~airwave~ One is only the first part in a series, and I hope Chandler gets back to it sooner than later, though I’m sure he’s busy now being all jobby with his newfangled job. Greedily, I just want even more radio to devour. In the meantime, snag a copy of the game for free by clicking these very words, turn up the volume on your speakers, and lose yourself in the music, at least for an hour.