Ember and Rime, the two heroes of Degrees of Separation, don’t go together. They just can’t. Like Piers Morgan and common decency, fire and ice don’t mix. But they can still help each other by sticking heavy platforms in place via frozen pools of water or propel the other into the air by making steam shoot out from fissures in the ground. This 2D puzzle-platformer is about two people learning that their respective worlds are deteriorating, and with Captain Planet nowhere to be found, it’s up to them to manipulate the environment in such a way that gets both of them where they need to be.
The British government doesn’t see the value in some borders at the minute, but even those inept tools could see the smarts behind the one that rests between this immiscible duo. So, how it works is that things on Rime’s greeny-bluey side are frozen or extinguished, whilst the orangey-reddish warmth of Ember’s space illuminates and melts. Each character’s area grows or shrinks depending on where they are on-screen, as well as their proximity to each other. It’s communicated really well from the off, allowing for instant experimentation.
Most of the challenge, in the non-linear stages I played, came from poking around and figuring out the best way to grab the optional scarves floating above seemingly unreachable – yet entirely reachable – points. And some are tougher than others. Ember’s able to light lanterns that raise doorways and platforms, but that has to be managed with Rime’s power to roll snow boulders and freeze lakes. It’s a balancing act. And one that I’m looking forward to playing around with in the full game. Maybe with a friend, though.
I played solo, which involved placing one character in the area their ability was best utilised, before switching to the other and leaping for a nearby platform. Most of the time, it’s alright: Ember and Rime are rarely far from each other, so going back and forth isn’t that much of a slog. As well as flipping between the two, leaving one of the protagonists stationary, you can get your pal to follow you, but that’s where things get a bit messy.
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On a couple of occasions I signalled for my buddy to come over, and then watched on as they got confused by something blocking their path, or fell down a hole after missing a jump. You can move both at once by holding the call button, which is somewhat of a workaround, but even from my limited time with it, it’s pretty clear that you’ll get the most out of Degrees of Separation by playing co-op – online wasn’t available when I played it, but will be when the game launches this Valentine’s Day, along with local co-op. You don’t need a friend to enjoy the story, though.
Chris Avellone, a writer of far too many video games to start listing here, has penned a fantasy story that focusses on the adversity our heroes face, and how their differences can actually benefit them both – a nice message that many could take note of. The narrative reveals itself through pleasant narration, with a delivery not dissimilar from a CBBC presenter regaling you with tales of knights and dragons. It’s all very lovely; hopefully it maintains that throughout the finished game.
One thing that never got old, at least in the preview, was how it looked. On either side of the shimmering line that separates Ember and Rime is a backdrop that reacts to where both are on-screen. Lush greenery disappears when Rime runs past it, and snowy climes are replaced with the warm glow of the sun when Ember is close. Whenever I entered a new area, I swapped The Divided’s positions back and forth just to see how the environment behaved, and it dazzled every time. The shift is seamless, and the world gorgeous.
It’s difficult to say how long the changing landscape wows, or if playing single-player will be infuriating over the course of a couple of hours because of a cumbersome AI companion, but there’s potential in Degrees of Separation. If developer Moondrop can deliver, this could be a real delight. What’s promised are power-ups – like the one I came across that released a large explosion when Rime and Ember came together – more diverse stages, and a story that appears to be as sweet as a Swizzels variety pack. No Kevin Bacon, though, which is a shame.