This Sunny Walking Sim Is a Break from the Claustrophobia of Pandemic Life

‘Promesa’ invites players to explore evocatively rendered memories of long-ago places.
October 19, 2020, 1:00pm
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'Promesa' screenshots courtesy of Julián Palacios

2020 has been terrible. Coronavirus has changed everything, almost entirely for the worse, and now, to varying degrees, we’re living with this awful disease. Alongside the creeping dread that a bleaker-than-usual winter awaits, pandemic life feels defined by a daily uniformity which is becoming exhausting. It probably doesn’t help that many of us spend our days glued to a computer, only to swap it for the television in the evening. Existence appears flattened—like the objects we experience the world through.

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This is why Promesa, an atmospheric walking simulator, is such a welcome relief. Yes, I played the video game on my laptop, but in the space of less than an hour, I was transported to Italy, Argentina, and Uruguay. I enjoyed a perfect cloudless blue sky and an apartment block bathed in soft yellow sun, plus, more ominously, a series of glitching landscapes recalling horror maestro Kitty Horrorshow’s work. Crucially, none of it remotely resembled my own home. 

As its maker Julián Palacios explained, Promesa is the result of a conversation with his grandfather, an exploration of shared memories, and an attempt to connect them. A series of virtual scenes is punctuated by brief ruminative texts, the Italian game maker hoping players will simply focus on “experiencing these places for a short time and feeling present in them.”

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What I love is how subjective it feels. You can almost sense the contours of Palacios’ own recollections, and those of the family member he’s interpreting; a kitchen is pleasingly cluttered, the blue of a stained glass window lovingly rendered. The game is like a friend showing you somewhere they hold dear (what now seems like a distinctly pre-pandemic activity); you see the space through their eyes as well as yours. 

Promesa also provided a necessary change of pace from the past month I’ve spent playing the same game over and over again (I’m looking at you Hades). That quickly became subsumed into the churn of my daily routine, perhaps even compounding my restlessness. For the 45 minutes I spent with Promesa, it felt like the inertia of 2020 lifted; if only it really had.