A little boy steps out into the world for the first time. The landscape is full of lush meadows, striking blue rivers, and wildlife gently pottering around. It holds such serenity that I almost feel commanded to stop and drink in every detail.
I played the Europa demo like this at first. I walked slowly along the trodden paths, retracing the same steps the creator of Zee, our android protagonist, took. As Zee’s creator narrated the words of his collectible journal pages, it turned out the beautiful world before me hid something darker.
An attempt to terraform Europa into a paradise for humans, and to leave behind Earth in its human-induced environmental destruction, was successful at first. But by the time Zee arrives on Europa, civilisation has fallen, leaving the world feeling empty. Its beauty turned haunting instead, and I was cautious of blasting through the demo for fear of missing out on an intended sadness I was meant to feel.
As the demo progressed and I learnt the controls, it became clear that my approach was all wrong. Zee is equipped with a jetpack, called Zephyr, which can be used to fly upwards and glide in the air, and there was no better way to explore in the demo. I would use the Zephyr to scale up rocky hills or building ruins, before leaping off and gliding forwards to my next goal.
For all the games I’ve played which involved platforming, Europa is the first one where I’ve felt like I was truly soaring and flying through the sky. The jetpack boost, when used correctly, can launch you upwards mid-flight multiple times, resulting in long airtimes. Traditional platformers don’t typically let you jump and fly so freely, making the jetpack in Europa even more exciting to me.
In the demo, vantage points acted as my checkpoints. Once I made it to a tall peak, I could look back and see where I’d come from, and then I could look forwards and see where I was headed next. Even if it looked far away, I knew I could get there in a snap with some gliding and downhill skidding. The journey could keep repeating itself and I’d have been happy to continue discovering Europa’s world from above because of how freeing it felt.
The demo is quite linear – whenever I attempted to scale something I wasn’t meant to, a huge, white gust of wind would gently push me back onto the path forward. I hope in the full game I can reach the top of every mountain I see, to put a little pretend flag down and trace back my movements to the very beginning of the journey and take in the area I’ll travel through next. When I looked at that looming figure of Jupiter in the sky, I felt like maybe I could fly with Zee to the surface of that giant planet too.
This piece is part of Wishlisted, a week-long series on Eurogamer covering some of our favourite games from February 2024’s Steam Next Fest. You can read all the other pieces from the series at our Wishlisted hub.