Following orders, guidelines and task lists is something I’m quite fond of when gaming. I like to follow structures, a bit lost when I’m thrown out into open world games and told to just get on with it. I guess the reason is that because real life is so random and chaotic, we sometimes need a bit of order in our gaming world. Well, Hazel Sky has a bit of both with its open world areas, and the need for you to literally follow a set of blueprints. You are an engineer and you are being tested. Will you pass or fail?
We may be used to watching huge credits roll after our games, with lists bigger than a Marvel movie, but it’s a small Brazilian studio who have made Hazel Sky, one that is probably smaller than Call of Duty’s catering team. What they have managed to develop and produce though is very unique; an interesting new game. Perhaps it can be a bit rough around the edges at times, but we are big fans of new work that takes risks and tries new ideas. This certainly does that.
The story of Hazel Sky has you playing a young man called Shane Casey who comes from the flying city of Gideon. Gideon respects engineers more than anything in their society, people who can put together flying crafts from blueprints before taking to the skies. Shane is tasked with a number of trials that take him to three islands, requested to put together three flying crafts and then get back to the city.
When on the islands, Shane finds notes and books that give insight into his engineer’s family’s past and also the society at large. Radios are heard, playing out strange announcements that hint at war and tell of things that aren’t as clear as they should be. Shane strikes up a walkie-talkie relationship with another engineer too – Erin – giving more information and doubts about their career paths.
The narrative and world-building are good and highly original. I loved the books and documents found around the island, as well as the relationship dialogue between Shane and Erin. My only critique of the narrative is that there are threads in Hazel Sky that are introduced but don’t ever find an end. There is a sense that there is a much bigger game kicking around – at least story-wise; one that was written but not included. Hopefully, we might see more in the future.
The gameplay takes place in the third person and each of the three islands has an aerial machine that needs certain parts to get it airborne again, hinted at through blueprints. So for example you might need to find some canvas to repair a hot air balloon or some metal parts to weld into the fuselage of a plane. As you progress through these islands the repairs get more complicated; whole series’ of different tasks will be needed should you wish to complete your objective.
Controlling things is okay, but at times isn’t as fluid as I would like. The action buttons just do not feel intuitive and are a bit awkward. There are also some sections where you have to climb, all while taking in some platforming and swinging on ropes. Again, it is fine but the controls can let you down a bit. Luckily the checkpoint system is forgiving and you won’t need to take in much backtracking. Honestly, I’ve enjoyed spending some time in the world of Hazel Sky, and the activities and puzzle solving on show are very satisfying. There are also loads of secrets and collectibles to hunt down too.
The visuals are delightful. There is some great use of light and a sense of wonder in each of the locations. There’s also some brilliant use of collectible items, especially the design of the books you find dotted around from previous inhabitants. There is a lot of talent to show here from a very small team of developers and they’ve done a great job in putting together Hazel Sky. The same goes for the sound score with brilliantly scored music throughout and some amazingly original tracks that they’ve sourced.
Hazel Sky is quite short, just some four hours or so in length, but you shouldn’t feel short-changed. It does feel like this is the starter to a bigger narrative to come and whilst the controls feel odd and sometimes a bit frustrating, the original concept, visuals, and variety of gameplay make Hazel Sky an experience worth having.
Hazel Sky is available from the Xbox Store