Tag Archives: arthouse

REVIEW: Lifeless

Experimentation in games, as in life, is what makes it worth doing. The world needs (and demands) a thousand first-person shooters and zombie wave shooters, yes, but to keep the delicate balance the industry depends on, you need developers and publishers willing to take a risk and innovate. Lifeless ($1.00) isn’t innovative in the traditional sense, but it is an art project about Loneliness. I applaud games that try for deeper meaning. Despite lofty ideas and art not always translating to quality, I appreciate anything that steps outside the conventional box.

Lifeless - Screen

I mentioned Lifeless not being innovative. It’s also derivative, doing its best indie impression of Journey, going so far as to mimic its sandy color scheme and architectural style. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, and if you’re going to idolize another art game and transfuse its ideas into yours, Journey is a good choice. Though where Journey pushed apocalyptic isolation, the very real fact of being alone, Lifeless has its theme of loneliness, the very real sense of being alone, in a city that is not dead or destroyed. People are everywhere…

…and people are the problem. It’s made explicitly clear at the start. If you approach them, your heart rate increases, and you begin to come undone. Get too close, and you’ll simply ‘disappear’. Except for the lady in red, that is. If another saying exists that says there is someone for everyone, the game allows that conceit. You can leave the city. Outside its walls, through some simple exploration and arithmetic (I won’t spoil the actual details here), you’ll find you have a certain amount of choices and potential outcomes. You can create a ‘happy’ ending.

Lifeless - Screen2

Or choose the alternative, if you’re sociopathically-inclined. With four possible ‘endings’, it’s really a matter of choice. Though you can opt for finality in one instance, calling them ‘endings’ may be a little generous, as the game merely resets and lets you go again. As a ‘game’, it is not much of one. A half-hour of content, maybe less, with no explanations or ending screens. No palpable reward. It’s up to you to provide the interpretation, and the worth, as both the graphics and the gameplay elements are too simple to evoke a deeper response on their own.

In that way, Lifeless is less a game and more a ‘feeling’ you can interact with. Introspection isn’t for everyone. Either you identify with the ‘character’ or you don’t, though all the empathy in the world can’t make it a more protracted experience or add new options. Lifeless embodies its title, too bare for a dollar. With that said, I hope I see more like it.

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REVIEW: Sententia

Sententia (80 MSP) is an art game, and even if it gets nothing else right, it doesn’t apologize for that fact. Nor should it. Whenever anything in the interactive medium tries for something more, either by pushing an esoteric theme or taking its gameplay on a road less traveled, I tend to get defensive, exalting the tiniest details and forgiving (or even neglecting to mention) the bigger faults.

Sententia is one of those times I’m tempted. I truly did enjoy the ‘idea’ of the game, which charts the life of a ‘special creature’ from child to adult, armed with the foreknowledge that he can create his own path through the world. In dialogue and occasional quotes, it touches on issues we’ve all pondered at some point, specifically in never forgetting your youth or imagination, and fighting for what you believe in. It has its moments. It also has some glaring issues that cannot be swept under the review rug.

An odd mashup of styles, the game alternates between its story / existentialism, platforming / light combat, and puzzle-solving via single-screen ‘stages’. In a twist, you ‘fight with words’, using them to defeat adversaries, and they you. The puzzles in the game are platforms that must be linked using your ‘imagination’, matching the number of ‘connections’ shown on each node. In theory, you see, this should be a good game. Once in action, though, it quickly goes to hell.

The problem starts in the clunky puzzle ‘building’; placing links is mostly fine, but removing connections can be a hassle. Rather than a toggle, there should have been separate buttons for each function; the middle steps are slow and unnecessary, breaking the momentum. When I’d rather quit to the menu to redo a puzzle than manually-deselect each connection, it’s a problem.

Then came the ‘punishformer’ jumps and disappearing platforms, often forcing you to leap from the exact edge of a disintegrating block in order to be successful. Other steps you find are simply illusions, leading to countless deaths as you trial and error your way into ‘learning’ the correct path. As if that wasn’t bad enough, you’re usually under fire from hecklers during these tougher slogs. You can now multiply your countless deaths by ten, all due to the terrible enemy layouts, their heartless AI, and their constant, cheap respawns.

After all that (and if you’ve stuck around), add to this a final puzzle that offers no hints as to its solution, no previous example in the game on which to base its logic, where I had to sheepishly ask for help (a sincere thanks to Tristan at Clearance Bin Review) in order to finally move past it (see comments below for help), and you’ve got a game that wasn’t ready for publication, let alone a prime spot in the Uprising. What you’ve got is a twenty-minute concept that stretches out to an hour or more because of bad design.

Still, and I must stress this, Sententia is worth at least a look. Don’t worry, there isn’t some misguided plea or ‘support the arts no matter what’ speech coming. What I am saying is brief and to the point. Play the game if you’re a developer, and play the game if you’re a consumer. There’s a lesson for anyone here.

Games are and should be a passion first, but they are also a product. High Concepts and putting your heart into a project are great, but they can only take you part of the way. Fun and proper balance have to do all the heavy lifting, or your idea, as sound and unique though it may be, will buckle. Sententia is the result of placing too much burden on an idea.

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Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Indie Theory