1000xResist, Sunset Visitor

1000xResist’s Magnificent Operatic Heterotopia

Set in the politically significant year of 2046, sci-fi game 1000xResist evokes Michel van der Aa’s operatic music and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s heterotopia-like films.

Sunset Visitor
Fellow Traveller
9 May 2024

There are stories we tell to help us keep going. The urge to lie arises in the face of uncertainty or simply out of our own insecurity. After all a lie is but a fabricated story conjured to serve an illicit purpose. We lie in the hope of protecting ourselves and others from the brutal, unrelenting truth that is a friend to no one but those who are, or at least feel they are, safe from some of life’s perils. The techno-futurist game 1000xResist, developed by Sunset Visitor and published by Fellow Traveller, explores a lie that has morphed into a labyrinthine edifice. The deceit becomes the very foundation of a heterotopia— a manifested world within a world.

When I first learned about 1000xResist, I was unsure if I would play it. Based solely on its blue-clothed protagonist, the game seemed too similar to Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei V (a game I love). I was convinced to give 1000xResist a try after reading that critic John Rogers of Gaming in The Wild wrote, “there’s just… nothing else doing what it does.”

1000xResist gameplay centers on light exploration from a third-person perspective. You control a character known as Watcher. The game is heavy on narrative, full of rich texts delivered poetically and with vigor by the memorable cast of characters, all of which are fully voice-acted. At times, you choose what to say in conversations to advance the story. 1000xResist’s heterotopia is inhabited by various characters, structures, and objects. They adorn the world with exacting intimacy.

1000xResist begins with death. After the year 2046, a virus slowly spreads. The virus coincides with the arrival of red humanoid giants from outer space, known as the Occupants. The importance of the year 2046 is more than incidental. It’s the first year explicitly mentioned in the game. It’s also the title of Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece 2046, a film whose themes of time travel, romantic longing, and use of mise-en-scène (scene staging) are a sure influence on the game.

The year 2046 also has massive historical and political weight. It’s the year that Hong Kong officially becomes fully integrated with mainland China, no longer a self-governing special administrative region. 1000xResist makes profound allusions to China, the events of the student 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protest against the introduction of the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, and the challenges and traumas of diasporic life.

Our protagonist, Watcher, is prone to falter. For someone with a name that means to look and observe, they have difficulty living up to their namesake. The main setting is the Orchard, a place protected by the ALLMOTHER (yes, all caps) from the perils of a world afflicted by disease and the mysterious Occupants. Watcher’s devotion to the ALLMOTHER, a deity and progenitor of the heterotopia, is fanatically unwavering.

It’s revealed that the ALLMOTHER was once a girl named Iris, whose immunity from a virus made her the subject of experiments. Watcher is accompanied by the Secretary, a robotic companion that houses information about the world before the rise of the ALLMOTHER. As you progress in the story, you will meet more characters and learn their motivations, like Jiao, Iris’ friend and a recent immigrant from China.

With a sleek and stylish presentation, 1000xResist’s artistic qualities are inseparable from its medium. 1000xResist is the first game that, whilst playing, I uttered to myself, “I should enjoy this,” meaning that I should be present in the moment, take it in—all the stimuli—and focus on enjoying the experience. It warrants this, as all aspects of the game are designed with intent. Early in the story, Watcher is told, “there is a now and you are in it… There is a then and you’ll receive it.” I followed these words like a mantra while playing.

Modern games often suffer from being technologically sophisticated yet not feeling futuristic or unique enough from other forms of entertainment or art. Blame it on their ubiquity. Many AAA games (big-budget games) are weighed down by their aspirations of eclipsing films as our go-to story emporiums. AAA games also suffer from an overreliance on bloated iterative design and consumer-means testing. Thus, they become interactive versions of a processed food product combining potato chips with pasta – messy and confusing. 1000xResist does not have these problems. It simultaneously feels like the future—in a manner that has never been made before—and a fresh work of art.

1000xResist is unlike anything I’ve played before. Not since FromSoftware’s Dark Souls has a game captivated me utterly. I find myself incessantly thinking about 1000xResist and comparing its narrative and world to anything that vaguely reminds me of the game. The world of 1000xResist feels eerily familiar in its setting and themes, yet they are not. The game’s moody soundscapes fit its disorienting setting. Gentle piano tracks played side-by-side with ambient electronic noise color this imaginative world where every step is worth taking.

Though other games share 1000xResist‘s pedigree, the closest analog I can think of is from another multimedia work, the opera Upload by Michel van der Aa. Upload utilizes music, text, mise-en-scène, video, and advanced technology to tell a story set in an epoch where humans inhabit dispersing worlds. 1000xResist does this as a video game. Both works elucidate how humans increasingly live in heterotopias of our own making.

1000xResist is also imparted with the same Upload virtuosic use of mise-en-scène. 1000xResist is part chamber drama, sci-fi detective mystery, and time-and-space travelogue. Sunset Visitor reuses sets as a sustainable design choice, yet this also heightens the tension in this virtual stage play. One revisits an apartment not for fun but for clarity. Texts are overlaid and appear on your display at various moments.

1000xResist is a drama presented as an experimental and high-tech stage play via video game. The game is operatic in structure, with chapters that flow like musical scenes and whose language cascades line to line. They facilitate our understanding and curiosity. Naturally, questions will flow out as one plays. Why were these decisions made? What is at the heart of this human drama? Why is the Orchard such a cool work of virtual architecture?

1000xResist‘s intricate set design and staging allow the player to be amazed like a tourist first visiting Tokyo, New York City, or outer space. I can illustrate this by describing just one scene in the game. I control Watcher as she performs a “communion”, a virtual exploration of the ALLMOTHER’s memories while she was still Iris. The game forces me to view the scene from a disorienting perspective— overhead, looking at an abode as if viewing it from a drone’s camera from above.

Watcher is in Iris” childhood home, a small three-bedroom apartment in Canada. I guide Watcher through the apartment’s quaint rooms. As Watcher saunters in, texts mythologizing Iris’ decision to leave her family appear. I read every single one of these lines. There is nothing else to see in the apartment. Before long, I lead Watcher out of the apartment and along a narrow path.

The colors along the way are like a dawn sky viewed with purple-tinted glasses. The structures in the background are massive – so imposing that they threaten to overtake the foreground. How can enlarged utility poles look so important? Have they always been this prevalent, this essential? Before I finish the thought, in a matter of seconds the setting changes.

Watcher now runs along an empty city. What appears to be a sunset and the city’s reflection are visible on the ground’s silver surface. I looked at my screen. The reflection is not being mirrored from the ground but from water. Watcher is walking on water; they have been this whole time. Aloud I gasp and holler, “Wow!” I’ve never experienced a change of perspective like this before. I doubt that I will ever again.

Considering 1000xResist’s use of mise-en-scène, another point of comparison is the films of the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien. Throughout his remarkable career, Hsiao-hsien’s use of mise-en-scène pushed cinema as an art to its limits. Film critic Kent Jones, in his 199 essay in Film Comment, “Cinema with a Roof Over its Head” states how in Hsiao-hsien stage design, “as in Proust, nothing is taken for granted, and you get the whole architecture of the world in which the characters live.” The whole world, so to speak, is laid bare in his films and plays an integral role through Hsiao-hsien’s ability to fill a scene with people and things—everything in its right place. Jones further elaborates that in Hsiao-hsien films, “the precise placement of every character… are all so clear and present that the net effect, as in Proust, is of a luxury hotel being taken off its foundations and moved across town.” Not to be outdone, in the scene described above from 1000xResist, even things as mundane and unremarkable as utility poles become harbors of meaning.

The recurring architecture in 1000xResist functions similarly to Jone’s description of Hsiao-hsien’s work. Iris’ childhood apartment and the Orchard structurally remain the same throughout the story. They, nonetheless, are taken “off their foundations and moved across town.” We take these places with us even after we are done playing. Every frame, every polygon, every bit of dialogue exists in 1000xResist with intent. 1000xResist is not entertainment to take lightly. In terms of game and narrative design, it rivals inequality and profundity in the very best works in the history of the medium.

1000xResist, though an art game, is unlike the films of Hou Hsiao-hsien, or opera, for that matter, in that it’s a work capable of wider popular appeal. The story that Sunset Visitor has created is that damn good. Its setting is more captivating than any half-a-billion-dollar blockbuster I’ve ever seen.

To paraphrase Jones, It doesn’t get better than 1000xResist.

RATING 10 / 10