This might sound super obvious, but jumping is essential when it comes to platforming, and Auf Abwegen does not nail the feeling of good, reliable jumping at all. And without being able to jump well and with precision, there is nothing I could do to get away from the pack of bloodhounds chasing me, which is a shame because, for a free thing on Steam, this seemed to have promise from the start. Well, from a narrative perspective, that is. Oh well, you can’t win them all, and that’s something I’m slowly coming to terms with. Not everything can be completed or seen through to conclusion.
Auf Abwegen, which I believe translates from German to “gone astray” or “on the wrong path,” has you controlling a red fox in its natural habitat. This seems to be some kind of VR simulation, played by people up in outer space, with the implication that Earth is no more, and this is one of the ways they can experience what life used to be like on the forgotten planet. It is a one-man project from user Kindman, but there is nothing kind about the threats and frustration you’ll experience in each scenario you come across, whether it is simply learning how to go under tree roots or running so quick that you can’t see what is up ahead.
Evidently, there are three levels to master, but I think the one where the bloodhounds chase you is only the second one. Or it could be the last challenge, but I don’t really know since I couldn’t get past it after 40-plus attempts. Let me describe what you do in parts one and two. It opens with a tutorial section, where you learn how to move the fox; it can jump, crawl under roots, and run. You are then tasked with finding food for your family, and it is up to you to both figure out how and what you want to hunt. I got a mouse, a bird, and an egg, I think, which worked out, but getting these things was no easy task. For instance, there is a section where you are leaping from lily pads to logs to rocks in a small pond. Again, the jumping is so loose and finicky that landing on these tiny platforms is seemingly random. Chasing the mouse requires you to run it down–not sure how this thing made it across the water–and again, running fast and jumping here isn’t ideal.
However, after delivering the food to your wife and cubs–do foxes have cubs?–you enter the chase sequence, and this is where the madness begins. The fox can run fast, so fast that you can’t see what is coming up next. However, you have to keep moving or else. It might be a hedgehog you have to jump over or a gap in the ground, and you have to use lightning-fast reflexes to overcome these obstacles because the bloodhounds are coming, and if they touch you once, you lose and must start all over, bugle call and all. So it then becomes a game of memorization, but even memorizing what is next doesn’t help when the jumping is unreliable. Sure, some deaths I’ll blame on me, but most of them were me squeezing my controller in pure frustration because I had cleared a bunch of obstacles only to jump into a wooden log with branches instead of jumping over it because I didn’t press the button early enough. Ugh, no thanks.
I do dig the look of Auf Abwegen, from its science-heavy computer interface at the start to the hand-painted backgrounds of the forest, backed by a soft, melodic piano-driven soundtrack, minus that annoying bugle call signaling the bloodhounds that it is time to hunt. The cartoony parts, such as the fox and fish and bloodhounds, pop against the backgrounds nicely. There’s some decent voice-acting, though I think it is all in German, but there are subtitles to read, with only a couple of grammar mistakes throughout.
If y’all are feeling nice or masochistic enough to play Auf Abwegen, by all means, give it a shot for free on Steam. And let me know what happens after you get past the bloodhounds. I’m genuinely curious.