This is the one hundred twenty-fifth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our next random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is facing its own mortality. It’s Can Androids Pray: Red, by Natalie Clayton, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Angry femme mech pilots at the end of the world.

That’s actually a very informative tagline.

Can Androids Pray: Red is a visual novel. The “Red” refers to the fact that there are two version of it, one with red colors and one with blue colors. I believe they are otherwise identical. Only the Red version is included in the bundle. While Natalie Clayton is listed as the developer, Can Androids Pray features writing from Xalavier Nelson Jr. and music from Priscilla Snow (AKA Ghoulnoise). These are all names familiar to me for their work in the indie games scene. Natalie Clayton writes about games for a living, but also develops some; Xalavier Nelson Jr. has been involved with a ton of indie titles, most recently Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator and An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs; and Priscilla Snow has scored numerous indie games including Voyageur, A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and Patrick’s Parabox. A strong lineup.

I love the presentation in Can Androids Pray. Rather than the typical 2D art seen in most visual novels, we have a low-poly 3D scene here, of two heavily damaged mechs lying in a desolate canyon. The camera is mobile, sometimes panning or swooping through the scene, other times showing us the slightly swaying view from one of the cockpits (or an aerial drone cam), complete with a HUD overlay full of damage warnings. The two pilots are going to die, when the sun comes up. Their mechs are too damaged to move, the atmosphere outside is toxic, and one of the mechs has a cut fuel line which will trigger an explosion once the heat from the sun arrives. As they talk to each other during their last moments, the light changes, shifting from darkness into dawn. It looks fantastic, and is elevated by Prscilla Snow’s evocative score, with certain parts of the conversation timed to dramatic changes in the music. All of this makes for a slick experience that is great at setting an appropriate mood.

Can Androids Pray is pretty short, around 10-20 minutes to play through. Mostly it involves listening to the talkative Beatrice, while players (as the more taciturn Cortney) occasionally pick responses. After a bit of anger and despair at their situation, Beatrice gets to the meat of the existential crisis when she starts talking about God. The Christian God, specifically, although much of the ideas are compatible with other religions too. This discussion, unfortunately, didn’t resonate with me, although I suspect it may connect with other players more deeply. Beatrice’s musings are based on the assumption of the existence of God, as some being beyond our understanding who created the universe and may or may not care about us. As someone who does not believe in the existence of God (or at least, not in the way God is discussed here), everything that followed felt meaningless. And even if God does exist, what is the point of such pondering when the answer can never be known?

I was amused to find that while Cortney can choose to engage in the philosophical discussion, she can also insist that it is pointless, or simply respond with rude insults. But I don’t think the latter two options change the narrative much, and while those choices felt more honest to my own viewpoint, I also worried that I would lock myself out of the very conversation the game is about. Having said that, I was more intrigued by some of the ideas brought up later in the game, and thought the ending was quite good. I also really liked the little hints about the world these pilots live in. They are clearly both soldiers, apparently for something called the Venutian Confederacy, but a few scant lines were the only hints I got as to what the Venutian Confederacy is about. The same is true for the enemy, the Mercury Protectorate. Can Androids Pray doesn’t really need these little tidbits about its world, but I love when games present themselves as a small part of a larger universe, their events not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Much the way Beatrice feels in relation to God, as she faces death.

This is one that will vary a lot for different players. If the central discussion of God is something that connects with you, you may love Can Androids Pray. If not, then the story may fall a bit flat, but it’s still told through a game that looks and sounds really cool, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. If any of that sounds interesting, definitely give Can Androids Pray a look (although check the content warnings on the page first). If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $6.99, although it’s better to grab the package that costs the same but also includes the Blue variant and the option to pay a little extra for the soundtrack.

That’s 125 down, and only 1616 to go!