Review: Blindscape

I recently played Blindscape, a free mobile ‘game’, though it is far more accurately described on its title page as ‘an interactive audio story’.

The quirk of this game is that the screen is completely blank.

Instead, a blind narrator tells you his story as he tries to escape the confines of his apartment.

You have to tap randomly about on the black screen to find and open doors then navigate around by sound (you’ll need earphones).

It was a really interesting way to use the format without feeling gimmicky as it helped you to get into the mind set of someone who couldn’t see, and forcing you to wear headphones shut out the world allowing you to be fully immersed in the narrative.

My only real complaint was that it was only 10 minutes long and left me wanting to know more about this world.

That said, I think the format might have dragged if it had lasted much longer, and the reason I decided to play it in the first place was because of its brevity.

I’m really interested in seeing how new media can be used to tell stories in a much more interactive way – Blindscape really showed that sometimes the best way to do that is to tear away all the bells and whistles and let the story do the talking.

Review: Fragments of Him

fragments-of-him-titleA tragic accident one morning takes a young man’s life. Though he is dead, he is not entirely gone, living on in the people he has left behind.

This is the set up for Fragments of Him, a walking simulator by indy developer Sassybot. It’s a title that is more narrative experience than true game, taking the player through the life of Will, the eponymous Him. As it does so, the game explores the true nature of love and grief, as well as tackling topics such as polyamory and homophobia.

The narrative follows the three people who loved Will most: first Mary, his grandmother who raised him, then Sarah his ex-girlfriend who stepped aside allowing Will to find true love with Harry, whose grief over losing his partner is shown in the final act. Throughout this, we see Will as he prepares for the what will ultimately be his last day, thinking of the past and looking forward to the future.

Certain aspects of this story line were expertly done. Hearing Will’s voice over as he plans a future the player knows he will never have does a fantastic job of reaching right into the chest, grabbing the heartstrings and yanking.  It’s a cheap trick, but an effective one.

I also enjoyed Mary’s story. She does not react well to learning of her son’s male lover, and getting a view inside her head as she tries to justify her reaction was a very interesting take on homophobia I haven’t seen before.

However, Sarah and Harry’s stories were less compelling. The game repeatedly tells you how in love Will is with the pair, but never really shows it. The end result is I never felt connected with either character. There was an interesting story buried in there somewhere, but it was somewhat lost in the telling.

Fragments of Him gameplay

The graphics of Fragments of Him features simplified, largely grey scale graphics, relying on voice over to provide emotion. Credit: Sassybot

The gameplay was also disconnected from the story for the most part, just requiring you to move around and click on different objects. There was no real choices to be made, no grand vistas to explore, just you plodding through the story. This made things drag in some places, particularly when you had to spend a minute searching for one thing you missed to click on.

There were a few places however that this play style was used very effectively. During Harry’s mourning, you have to go through the house clearing out everything, really hammering home the sense of complete loss.

The graphics were very minimalist, clean lines all shaded in a sort of off-white grey scale. Bleaching all colour out of the world really helped to add to the sense of desolation, echoing the sense of mourning once again.

The characters were portrayed as blank mannequins, instead relying on voice overs to convey emotion. Thankfully, the voice acting was spot on and a few other clever tricks helped bring the characters to life, though not enough to compensate for the flaws in scripting.

When I finished playing Fragments of Him, I walked away thinking: about life, love and loss. I think this was the game maker’s plan, so well done. Purpose very much achieved.

Summary: An intriguing, but flawed story about loosing a loved one that doesn’t quite measure up to its promise, but a worthwhile play none the less.