Platform: PlayStation 4
Review Date: 12/26/20
While on a camping trip, J.J.'s friend/lover Emily disappears and J.J. goes looking for her. In the process, she's struck by lightning and burned to death, but a strange being brings her back to life. Sort of. As she continues her search, J.J. can solve puzzles through self-mutilation by breaking bones and hacking off limbs. The entire game is built around this mechanic, and it becomes tiresome extremely quickly. The story is told through a seemingly endless stream of text messages on J.J.'s phone, which is extremely annoying. Video games with smartphone interfaces make me crazy. I hate using my phone in real life, and I hate it even more in video games. Granted, you probably don't have to read any of the messages in order to make progress in the game, but that's how the narrative unfolds. I wouldn't know, because I got stuck about thirty minutes into the game and gave up because it literally had nothing to hold my interest.
This is unfortunate, because from what I've read, the game actually has a rather compelling and poignant story, but everything the game does makes the journey as unpleasant as possible. It's simply no fun to play, and maybe that's the point? The game opens with some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard, which immediately tainted the entire experience. The art direction is simple and colorful - not unattractive, but immediately forgettable. The character design is uninteresting, but mostly because they're rendered so small that you can't make out any details. The controls are awkward and clunky, which makes movement stiff and cumbersome. Similar to "Limbo" (2010), puzzles can be annoyingly obscure and it's not obvious what can and can't be interacted with. The self-mutilation mechanic is neither campy or clever, and J.J.'s anguished screams whenever she's ripped apart are haunting and disturbing. There's nothing nice about the game at all, which definitely reflects the developer's intents and the decidedly heavy subject matter. If the game had any sort of hook that I could enjoy, I probably would have continued it for a few more hours, but it actively pushed me away the entire time. It also seems aimed at the younger crowd and smartphone generation, which is another cultural barrier to entry.