The unnervingly named Smile has depth. Given a ten week development cycle, it would be oh-so simple to knock out a concept of a survival horror game that worked on cheap scares and a cliched storyline, but not so for Game Over Studio’s creation.
Although heavily trimmed due to the restrictive deadline, this third-person survival-adventure is steeped in Maori mythology, revolving around reflections and their symbolism. Throughout the game, a demi-god is playing silly buggers, corrupting reflections, distorting your image to make minions and creating portals in time and space.
An early example of this mirror based gameplay showed puddles reflecting abstract images of your next destination and finally the kidnap of a girl, a sort of visual treasure hunt ending in the unveiling your ultimate objective. From there on, stealing glimpses into the water source will give you a hint of the girl’s then whereabouts or trigger an encounter with a demon.
Teleportation is also possible through some shiny surfaces, although at the moment the use seems quite arbitrary as the tech isn’t up to giving you a feel to where you’ll end up; you just have to jump in and hope. This isn’t Portal, more Prey, where each reflection has a set destination. Still, if you remember the teleporter happy Halo multiplayer maps you’ll know that’s it can be used to create a maze or level just as taxing as anything Glados can set you, and you never know what’s going to be waiting for you on the other side.
Later on light is used, affecting how reflections are perceived. Given a single sheet of glass, the light properties on either side can either make it translucent or mirror-like, thus affecting the demi-god’s influence on it.
Maori imagery even extends to the very subtle hint system. Maori rock paintings are tucked away in corners, pointing explorers in the right direction. On one occasion the previously docile kiwi (the bird, not the fruit) decided to help me, jumping into a puddle and giving me the inkling that I should do the same.
The concept is very solid and despite the loud show floor the sense of suspense and mystery came across well. Smile definitely has a touch of the Resident Evil 4 about it with the horror used sparingly and to good effect, whilst also teasing the player enough into making them want to get to the bottom of the mystery,
On a practical level, aspects such as the camera, graphics and combat weren’t as tight as others on display, but given that you really felt and understood what the team had set out to convey this was a very strong showing with a veritable kiwi (still the bird) full of potential.