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Friday, June 14, 2024

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Review: Bottle: Pilgrim (Steam)

Bottle: Pilgrim has been a difficult experience for me to handle. That’s not to say that the game is at fault in any way. The subject it treats is very delicate and I knew that it was just a matter of time until Tonguç Bodur shall elaborate a more tragic story within his walking simulations. In his 8th Steam project to date, this talented developer has proved to me once more that both his vision and his game worlds can shift towards unexpected locations and themes. Always an improvement over the previous title in his rapidly expanding series, such as the ones belonging to Drizzlepath or Nephise. Bottle was released almost two years ago and yet its “sequel” is fortunately sharing few similarities apart from that pesky titular object and its accursed contents. Alcoholism is a very serious issue and Bottle: Pilgrim is more than just a cautionary, albeit fictional tale.

Out of the hundreds of Steam games I managed to play and also review before Bottle: Pilgrim, there were only two other titles that deeply saddened me upon their conclusion. “SOMA” and “In Between”. Now I’m writing about a third special title that has managed to pry a gentle tear from an otherwise hard-bitten individual. It is a story of utter failure and coming to terms with it. Unapologetic until the very last moment. You’ll understand once you see it through. While never making a habit out of spoiling the storylines of any reviewed game, in this case I really can’t say much more other than how striking it was to me, the optimistically reminiscent beginning and how depressing it was to go through its fourth and final chapter. The narrator takes players along for a proverbial rollercoaster ride of emotions which range in intensity and yet the culmination of it all is still bittersweet if you’re willing to keep an open mind about it. In terms of the Kübler-Ross model (the five stages of grief), we’re spared the first four steps and we arrive just in time for Acceptance and its long awaited solace.

An excellent example of optimization on the Unreal Engine 4. Being powered by it, Bottle: Pilgrim is capable of portraying in a convincing manner, diversified scenery which shifts along with the central theme of each chapter and interlude. From tranquil rainforests and eclectic streets to snow-covered woods and derelict buildings. Each new setting represents a new tone which is in full contrast from the previous one. Part of the game’s charm comes from this visual and stylistic alternation between past and present. Vivid memories of better times in contradiction to the pressing contemporary sadness. Performance-wise I can hardly find a flaw to the game. It was a stable playthrough at 60 frames per second while running it maxed out on 2K resolution. No glitches, crashes or any sort of issues.

The loading times on 2015’s Drizzlepath are a far cry from Bottle: Pilgrim’s promptitude. The game is a stunner and potential provider of many quality screenshots and desktop backgrounds, should you choose to indulge yourself in this activity by straying off the beaten path and just relax while exploring the surroundings. All of Bodur’s projects share this distinctive trait. There’s always something to see and immortalize through a screenshot. No HUD shall interfere and the already minimal User Interface can be hidden by the press of the CTRL key. I took over seventy screenshots for this game and linked 40 of them to my Steam profile. I really need to reduce my “intake” since the Steam Cloud doesn’t seem to appreciate my liberal use of the Overlay’s screenshot feature.

If you played any of the previous titles from this developer, you’re most likely accustomed to the excellent combination of an eloquent narration accompanied by instrumentals. In Bottle: Pilgrim, the piano is far more noticeable than violins or the guitar riffs that Tonguç had a predilection towards, in his past games. Skilled voice acting could only complement the befitting soundtrack. Subtitles can be toggled and they featured no spelling errors as far as I could tell.

As with most walking simulators, Bottle: Pilgrim is tied to a linear progression and in our particular case, also the level design. “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter” may have attempted an open world approach yet I consider it just a more complex illusion since the objectives and clues were leading down the same bumpy road, no matter how much you postponed the inevitable. The majority of Tonguç Bodur’s creations are strictly confined to a single path. The exception is Drizzlepath: Genie and I can only hope that more of his future projects might exhibit replay value by offering different perspectives such as the Red or Blue path in the aforementioned title. One of Bottle: Pilgrim few flaws stems from its lack of replay value. Especially if you’re thorough and patient enough to acquire all the various collectible items scattered from one chapter to another, in one sitting. Coconuts, umbrellas, textbooks or life preservers. They serve as mild distraction from the more pressing issues being presented by the narrator.

There are four chapters and three interlude levels in Bottle: Pilgrim. It certainly adds a decent gameplay length and also separates the simulated reality from the dream sequences. Even though the game can’t be compared from many points of view to Bodur’s initial “Bottle”, I do miss the implementation of the Noir Mode which added a filter that I would have found suiting even in a potential replay of Bottle: Pilgrim. Incentives are required indeed and collectibles are just one option out of several. Unlike the titular predecessor, players can now both sprint and toggle the automated advance of the avatar. If you just wish to focus on the surroundings but you’re also in a hurry, this is the perfect way to enjoy the game. Personally, I make a habit out of stopping a lot during games and looking for the ideal conditions of my next screenshot. Bottle: Pilgrim accommodates both playstyles. The presence of a few puzzle revolves around the acquisition of a hidden object and subsequent combination with another.

This game now ranks among my favorites from this developer’s ever growing list of relaxing adventure titles. Its story managed the rare feat of reaching out to me in a most touching manner and I can’t overlook that. Replay value or not, I do consider it the kind of experience I’d be more than willing to repeat in the foreseeable future. Time will tell, as always. If you’re looking for a break from happy endings and other fairy tales but don’t want grit or tragedy being “delivered” by running & gunning something or someone, Bottle: Pilgrim will suit you just fine.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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