There is something about a bright red airplane buzzing over endless blue seas that is not easy to put out of mind. I saw a screenshot for Above a few weeks back – or maybe it was a GIF; this is a game that has a real power when glimpsed in GIF form – and part of me has been with it ever since, moving in low over the calm waters until my fixed wheels sparkle with seaspray and my propeller sends up tumbling cords of froth.
If this was all there is to Above it would be enough, I think. You grab the controller and the opportunities presented by a clear blue ocean seem limitless. One stick to steer, another to do stunts, and – why not, then? – an occasional stab of a trigger to send a little line and hook descending to pick up salvage scattered across the waves.
But that was never going to be all there was to Above. Stare long enough at that red plane moving over the blue seas and the toy box, children’s book dreaminess starts to turn to something darker. The plane seems terribly small, and the ocean terribly big and terribly frightening in that way that featureless oceans can’t help but feel. Thoughts turn from Lindbergh to Amelia Earhart.
And for the developer, Mighty Moth, based in Copenhagen, thoughts have kept on turning.
Above starts off pretty simply, with that dream of flying. But it is not as simple a dream as it seems. You set off from a tiny island because strange things are afoot at sea, terrors emerging from the deep. Once you have picked up enough scrap to build a new engine that will carry you further from home, you can visit an anomaly – a vast mountain freshly rising out of the ocean. The mountain is made of some alien green rock, smooth and almost ceramic, in a way that effortlessly conjures that overused word Lovecraft. At the top of the mountain is a huge dark hole. What’s inside?
What’s inside is adventure, of course – an adventure of flying and exploring and unravelling the truth behind a horribly strange darkness of some kind. It’s an adventure of upgrading your plane over time to travel further and do more, and of seeing increasingly weird and hideous sights. Above starts with a promise of dreamy calm, then, the red plane and the blue ocean – but the ocean is never that dreamy, and it is never that calm.