The definition of what makes a good video game is as fluid as Stephen Harper’s integrity. The same concept can mean many different things to many different people. When I first bought my Playstation 3, I ended up downloading Flower, which remains one of my favourite video games of all time. It was not a typical game. There were goals, but the game was more about discovery than it was about winning.
Gathering Sky, by A Stranger Gravity (PC, iOS, Android), is a game that tosses convention aside and allows you to float in the air over a beautifully designed world. Calm; chill; zen – whatever word you use, it’s a game that everyone needs to try because of its ability to take the edge off of reality by immersing you in a relaxing experience enhanced by great eye and ear candy.
The game begins with a top-down view of a single bird in the sky. You influence the direction of flight by aiming and clicking a mouse button, at which point your bird will move towards the cursor, arcing if it needs to (click and hold to sustain a particular direction; click rapidly to flap your wings). The bird flies at a relatively easy pace, but hop into a wind current (shown as a visible phenomenon) and your velocity increases as the breeze facilitates your flight, literally carrying you in the direction that the wind is blowing. As you fly along, you’ll find other birds who will join your flock when you get close enough.
While the sky is mostly open, revealing the painted landscape below, there are clouds (which you can fly through), and solid obstacles that keep you focused on a particular direction (they resemble rocks). Colliding with the solid objects doesn’t kill your birds, but it can certainly disrupt the flock, resulting in the loss of a few wingmen. But don’t despair. With some quick thinking and clicking you can veer your flight group back in the direction of the lost and re-collect them.
And so you gather your flock in the sky, guiding them about with a wave of your hand. You can fly to the right if you wish to move to the next level, or you can take your time and explore the wide expanse before you, navigating wind currents and harnessing them to speed your birds to another part of the sky. Unlike many games, Gathering Sky is refreshingly bereft of minutae, making discoveries all the more precious. I have played through the game and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the neat things that are available to be found.
While the artistic backgrounds are a feast for the eyes, the haunting orchestral score (which was recorded at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music T.A.C. Studios) is just as beautiful. Each level has distinct visuals and music, with serene sounds layered over peaceful weather and more frantic melodies reserved for stormy conditions. However, they’re all tied together by an over-arcing theme.
Gathering Sky feels like something akin to mediation. With the beautifully crafted landscapes gently flowing beneath your birds and the gorgeous music wafting into your ears, the amount of time that you play is up to you. It’s possible to finish the whole adventure in about an hour, but that seems like a poor choice, considering that there are so many places to fly to in each level. In that regard, Gathering Sky challenges the norm, leaving players with a relatively open-ended adventure. There are challenges, but nothing in the game exists to punish the user; everything enhances the idea of exploration.
Gathering Sky is a perfect way to unwind that happens to be wrapped in the clothing of a game. Controls are extremely easy to learn, the visuals and sounds are majestic, and the overall experience is what you want it to be, either a quick rush or a leisurely glide through the heavens. I quite enjoyed playing it on my PC (via Steam) – but I suspect that touch-screen versions of this game (iPad, Android, Windows) are even more immersive as your finger does the walking…er…flying.