Big Robot's Early Access game The Light Keeps Us Safe clearly takes the lessons learned from their previous title Sir, You Are Being Hunted, as both feature not only procedurally-generated worlds but also killer robots looking to... well, kill you. This time though we're emerging from a bunker hidden deep beneath the surface to confront a new and threatening world, rather than a frightfully comic one.
Light is the only thing that saves us from death in this world; the title doesn't lie. During your ascent to the earth's surface, we get a device that serves both as a flashlight (that bears a strong resemblance to the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2) and as a sort of weapon. The beam of light doesn't only let us see in the dark, but it also keeps the killer robots at bay temporarily.
The goal in the current Early Access version is to find enough components to upgrade our device, and the required parts are built into machines that can be found scattered around the medium-sized map. These are well-guarded, as you can imagine, but incredibly scarce, and at times we felt like we were just wandering around scratching our heads about where to look. It's not that big a map either, so the slog started to feel increasingly tedious as we plodded around the dark wilderness.
We encountered a handful of enemies during our time in the game, as there are small robots that sit on the ground like bollards and zap you if you're not careful and happen to stumble near them. Although the small machines are unable to move, when they come into direct contact they still cause a lot of damage, meaning it's important to keep an eye out and zap them with the lamp to send them back into the ground for a while.
Far more dangerous are the spherical robots floating around like the Eyebots in Fallout, which usually patrol in front of important waypoints. These can give chase and aren't incapacitated as much by the light, so this means running and hiding is more important than aggressively marching past.
Then there are the weaponised cameras, again positioned in front of important locations such as cabins containing machines that we can loot. Throwing a bottle can easily distract their attention for a few mere seconds, and then you need to use the red power line attached to them to locate their power source, which can be deactivated, as can the contraptions that block doorways with purple fire.
A simple loot system allows us to rummage through old cupboards and bins in search of medicine, food, and bottles, but the power for your torch can only be recharged at specific points, like the bunker you can return to at any time. Keeping an eye on these resources is vital since your health bar keeps you alive, your food bar regularly decreases (especially when you're running), and your torch is a constant necessity.
Over the course of our time with the game we finally managed to collect the required parts, but frustration arose as a bug prevented us from getting back into the bunker. The developers informed us in advance that climbing up a ladder could sometimes lead to the player flying across the entire map, which wasn't a problem, but when we couldn't even turn to the door of the bunker (neither to the left nor to the right) and every press of the X key caused us to fly over the map again - that's when we gave in.
Speaking of the bunker, this forms the core of the experience, both in terms of the mechanics and the narrative. You start the game here and are taught the basics, like crouching to avoid traps and using the torch, but you don't just leave it behind once you emerge to the surface. As mentioned, you have to return here for upgrades and to recharge your torch, and it also seems like there's more to offer. For example, there's something the game only describes as a mysterious, dead machine that's in need of fuel, but whatever could that be?
In terms of the narrative though, all we've gotten thus far is the voice of a Scottish woman telling us that we need to go outside to get supplies, and that we should have gone into the light "like the rest of us", before saying she has to go, leaving us all alone. It's intriguing and haunting in its vagueness, and this is a particular element we're intrigued to see develop as the game progresses.
It's also worth noting that this isn't the only way we're alone, as the game is eerily silent throughout. The only noises are the drones of the robots and the machinery that has taken over this world, and this really adds to the desolate atmosphere Big Robot is trying to create. There's even a massive cacophony at one point that we won't spoil, but it really made our hairs stand on end.
As expected, the Early Access version of The Light Keeps Us Safe isn't without fault, but there's a lot to be optimistic about, especially considering the atmosphere and the torch that seems to be at the heart of a versatile gameplay experience (there will be different light colours too, which will no doubt impact things). The loot system seems a bit out of place and generic though, and the world a bit barren when it comes to what's there to be discovered, but hopefully these are things that can be worked on as the studio improves the experience. Until then, just stay clear of the ladders.