When I was at the Reboot Develop conference I attended one of the best talks I have ever seen. Thierry Boulanger talked about how he and the rest of Sabotage Studio made their game The Messenger. When the audience left the theater, I saw a lot of red eyes and sniffly noses. My own, I’m not ashamed to say, were also red and sniffly, but I’m sort of a softy so a particularly moving commercial might set me off.
A talk about how a developer created a game isn’t really something that anyone would usually classify as emotional. There are a lot of them out there. Most are about the trials of game development, some are about a specific issue or problem the team tackled. I find a lot of them very, academically, interesting. Something was very different about this particular talk.
Thierry Boulanger did talk about his own personal journey, his struggles and hardships, but that wasn’t the only thing that made an entire audience well up. There was something about the way he talked about the game that tugged at me. At the time I hadn’t played The Messenger but I knew I would have to. Now it’s a few months later, and I have played The Messenger, and I get it.
As a game I think that The Messenger is very good. Not earth shaking, not genre defining. It’s not the type of game that will be written up as having historic significance. I’m certain that it will be someone’s favorite game, because, like I said, it is very good. That someone isn’t me, but I am glad that I played it.
Structurally I thought the game had some issues. It is longer than it needs to be. The controls are very sharp and precise but some of the mechanics feel mushy. There is a randomness to some of the boss fights that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the game. The graphics and audio are excellent but don’t always feel cohesive area to area. The music is perfect. The music is absolutely perfect.
Despite any flaws, I can easily recommend The Messenger. The one thing it is absolutely not lacking is heart. The people who made this game put absolutely everything they had into it. The Messenger gives you the impression that the Devs thought they might never get to make another. They jammed in so much stuff, so many mechanics, so many jokes, so many stories, so many choices, that the game is filled to bursting.
I’ll never know if I would have had the same response to The Messenger if I hadn’t heard Thierry’s talk. That’s fine. The two creations work well together. Complement and reinforce each other. I think I understand the talk a little better now, but more importantly, I think I know why he felt he had to give it. He put everything he had into it because he didn’t know if he would ever get to make another one.