The Pedestrian started as a small idea between 3 friends that grew legs and scale to become a fully fledged Kickstarter backed game and released on PC at the beginning of 2020 after 7 years of pulling it together. With just a 4 man team, Skookum Arts has managed to produce an entry into the puzzle genre that looks distinctive, feels fresh, and most importantly, makes you think hard. It’s had a great reception from players so far, and is about to make its debut on consoles. With a set of mechanics that blend 2D and 3D interaction and ask you think not just about the movements within the puzzle, but moving the puzzle around as well, it’s not an easy concept to explain. Have the team been able to create something that’s intuitive enough to pick up and play?
There’s nothing in the way of narrative in The Pedestrian – this is pure visual design telling a tale and prompting on what to do. It opens with a transition from the studio’s logo into a stencil of the global signs for male and female, and lets you take over from there. You’re controlling this avatar, making them move through the sketched 2D pictures and signs that are fixed to the wonderfully rendered 3D “real” world. Each sign is distinct with little room for more than a few platforms and obstacles, and the aim is to make from the entrance to the exit. Simple, eh? Solid lines are walked on or act as walls, dotted lines can be passed through, and there are ladders and doors which connect to other signs to allow progress along the route. Don’t be mistaken thinking this is pure platforming though, there’s a lot more to get to grips with than some well timed jumps.
The hook is around the puzzle sections that mark key points along your avatars journey. Every now and again you stumble across an area with a series of signs that need to be manipulated to solve and open up the exit – or impressively interact with the 3D world. In here the doors are locked and the ladders retracted, and it all needs connecting together to let you move between them. A tap of triangle pulls the view outwards and suddenly you’ve got sight of all the signs, the markers that show which bits can be connected, and the ability to join these dots together to build pathways. Linking doors causes them to open and hey presto you’re moving forward again. This core idea gets built upon as you get deeper into The Pedestrian, starting with picking the signs up and moving them around a bit like a jigsaw, then building in using different ones as overlapping doorways, creating electrical connections, moving objects around and quite a bit more.
Each main stage has what’s best described as a hub puzzle where individual elements have to be solved and items collected to get through the main part, and then access to a new part of the city opens up. Although these are constructed by the developers as the key part of the game, it does feel like you’re building your own puzzle a lot of the time, and hints that there could be multiple solutions. However, it is possible to get them wrong. If things end up in a dead end, it’s easy enough to reset by disconnecting the pathways which puts the avatar and items back to their initial state, and leaves the signs wherever you’d got them to. This actually layers in as a solution mechanic in later stages that forces you to think differently to what’s gone before. Switching up the requirements fairly regularly keeps your engagement levels up as well as the pace of the game, and it manages to deliver surprise and delight right to the very end.
One of the more intriguing parts of The Pedestrian is the fact that every principle is conveyed through gameplay with no text or voice telling you exactly what to do. It’s that level of visual guidance that impresses, and the fact it manages to stand out from what’s happening in the backgrounds. The sense of place with moving around the city areas and the looping back round at times is wonderful, as is the way it transitions from one to another. It is honestly gorgeous to spend time in – bright, bold, colourful, packed with tiny details, and always giving something new to have a look at. There’s usually something new to listen to as well as the sounds of the town bleed through the suitably upbeat soundtrack. Rarely does a game manage to pull off high levels of presentation and performance alongside tight mechanics, especially from such a small team, but this will have you believing it’s from a triple-A studio with resource to spare.
I could spend more time extolling the virtues of The Pedestrian, probably taking longer than the runtime of the game. At 4 hours-ish for a first playthrough it’s over much more quickly than you want it to be. It leaves you without a sense of closure too given the nature of the ending, and it lacks a visible incentive to return and play again, except to enjoy how well put together it is. None of that matters though. What Skookum Arts have produced is a perfect example of a puzzle game that nails all the right elements – from unobtrusive markers that point to when to zoom out, to solution mechanics drip fed with exactly the right pace and timing. Anyone with any interest in the genre should get absorbed in this well crafted jaunt.
A PS5 review copy of The Pedestrian was provided by Skookum Arts PR team and the game is available now on PC, Mac and Linux, and will be released on PS4 and PS5 on the 29th January 2021 for around £20.