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Game: The Pedestrian
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5
Developer: Skookum Arts
Publisher: Skookum Arts
Reviewed on PS5
The Pedestrian may have been overshadowed a bit by all the big AAA game trailers shown at last year’s State of Play, but it certainly made an impression on me, and I’m glad I finally managed to get my hands on it. I remember being drawn in by its distinct esthetics, the interestingly designed sign-shaped puzzles, and a player character distilled down to the bare essentials of a protagonist. Your avatar is a public bathroom symbol, where your customization options boil down to choosing between the male or female version of that symbol. Perhaps in some way, it’s trying to deconstruct player choice or game protagonists in general, but personally, I just like the idea of all of this somehow magically happening around us while we aren’t looking like a Pixar movie.
The Pedestrian is essentially a puzzle game, but what makes it stand out, aside from its esthetics, is the puzzle design and its key puzzle mechanics involve directing your character from the starting point to the exit by moving it through different signs, which you can move around (usually) and connect them to each other. The challenge is that you have to do it in one go, meaning you can’t change or remove connections without resetting the puzzle. However, there is a mechanic much later in the game that allows you to somewhat work around that limitation. As you progress through the game, more complexity will be added, such as needing to find keys to unlock doors, connect power cables, activate elevators, or trying to avoid lasers that will kill you in one hit. Don’t worry though, dying will just reset the current puzzle. So, in the end, there’s no real penalty for failure.
Certain puzzles will require you to solve adjacent puzzles to get an item, like a box or a key, which you will need to solve the main hub puzzle. You’ll likely rack your brain a few times on how to solve some of these puzzles, but it will never take too long for you to figure out the solution. I only was really stumped once or twice for a bit. One puzzle solution was particularly subtle, to the point that I pretty much discovered it by accident by having a little fun trying to get back to the point where I failed before. That being said, at no point did I feel any frustration when I was trying to figure out how to proceed.
The main objective in every area is to find a unique item. Once you have collected all of them, you will unlock the final area. As you reach the exit of one area, the next area will be loaded, usually by having you travel by subway or elevator. These areas are distinct from each other in esthetics, ranging from warehouses, city centers or rooftops, and more. They are further distinguished by the accompanying score, which is excellent, by the way. It perfectly complements the journey. Without spoiling anything, I do want to say that the final area is quite a treat. It puts everything you learned up to this point on its head, and that’s all you will get from me, as this is best experienced by yourself.
Performance-wise the game is very polished and runs smoothly. I only experienced one real bug in my entire playthrough, which forced me to reload the game. Speaking of loading, the game actually does save you some time by not going through a menu screen when booting the game from the console UI. You’re put right back where you left off. Well, sort of, as I did sometimes find myself having to repeat a few steps to get back to the part where I quit the game previously. Not that this is really a problem, as you will never lose too much time.
If I could describe this game in one sentence, it would be as follows: The Pedestrian is a fantastic journey through the backdrop of the mundane. By making everyday backgrounds appear almost magical, and with its creative puzzle design, it never outlives its welcome. And yes, it is quite a short game, but it doesn’t feel too short. Solving the myriad of puzzles offered within this small package is fun, but even without the puzzles, the journey it takes you on alone is worth checking this game out. It’s safe to say that The Pedestrian is far from pedestrian.