By: Brian Gunn
Karaski: What Goes Up… is an entry in a relatively rare genre, the immersive simulation. While it is a genre that has never had huge mainstream appeal, when done right it creates quite a compelling space.
Karaski is a social stealth game and plays a bit like a blend of a fairly basic stealth title and adventure game. Its stealth mechanics are not deep or refined, and mostly consist of making sure you’re out of line of sight before you do anything risky. That being said, the options available are generally more than adequate, though not mechanically interesting enough to be a reason to seek out the game.
Adventure elements play like most other first-person adventures, running around talking to people, digging through their personal effects for doodads and currency, and occasionally using what you find to get more access to the plot.
As a low-budget affair by a small development team it should surprise no one that the visual side of things isn’t very impressive. Karaski is visually Spartan, favoring big and exaggerated geometry in the level designs over small details.
Characters designs are similar, with ornaments like hats and beards distinguishing characters more than unique faces. I’d found there could also be some strange judder with the game when mousing over objects that could be interacted with.
There’s no voice acting, which can be a little distracting, but it does allow for characters to have a wider range of dialogue. Music seems highly inspired by the type of tracks you’d hear in old propaganda pieces and fits the game’s tone rather well, even if it does little to stand out.
Sound effects are a bit hit or miss, with footsteps drowning things out a bit too much, though it does make for good positional cues when sneaking around.
The airship Karaski is taking its inaugural flight as a demonstration of the might of the glorious Commonwealth, a fictional stand in for the U.S.S.R., and the player has managed to snag a ticket. As you are boarding, however, you are quickly bopped on the head.
From there on you can make the story your own as the game allows you to play it as just a temporary knockout, or perhaps it gave you amnesia. Soon a mysterious radio is asking for your help, offering another opportunity where you can also play along or craft your own backstory. The game is full of little moments like this that allow you to fill in the blanks of your past.
Regardless of whatever backstory you decide on, the main thrust of the plot has the player investigating the mysterious sabotaging of the ship. It seems someone doesn’t want the flight to be a success, and there are four prime suspects: the architect Karaski, whom the ship (and thus the game) are named for, the rebellious ship captain, the religious doctor that sees mankind flying as a sin, and the train magnate that could view airship travel as competition.
At the start of the game you’ll get to choose a tool you fancy, and these significantly affect the gameplay. A fake police badge will get you out of trouble and might coerce information out of people, while a lock-pick will get you into the many locked rooms you’ll find in the course of the game.
Most of these items can also be found later in the game, but some are well hidden. During my first playthrough, for instance, I never found the item that lets you unlock and navigate vents, which closed off a few story beats.
Players are given relatively free rein to explore the ship, provided you can uncover the tools needed to get there, though there are a few choke points in the story. Many things you do impact the fates of the various characters, so even if you’re given a side-quest that you think is helping, the effect of completing it may end up doing more harm than good.
Karaski’s stealth mechanics are probably the least interesting element of the game, with the story and the ways you can change it being the strong point. Wisely there is no combat or death if you get caught; instead you’re ejected from where you were trespassing.
You may be able to bribe your way out of trouble, though if you don’t, your suspicion meter will rise. That can affect the way characters view you. Some actually seem to like a bit of a nasty streak, and might open up more, while others will consider you with disdain.
While the story is enjoyable, it does feel a bit more limited compared to other standouts in the genre like Consortium or Last Express. There are only a few characters, and events are more oriented around the player rather than everyone sort of having their own life.
This makes repeat playthroughs less attractive as, while the tools of the trade change things up a little from a gameplay perspective, the story doesn’t appear to have much to offer beyond the end sequences.
There’s also some lovely end credits that players get to explore rather than watch, including an extra room that showcases elements of the game in an alpha state when the art style was much different.
While Karaski: What Goes Up… is a bit rough around the edges, both visually and mechanically, it does offer a good mystery story with a variety of ways to approach it.