Review | The Void
Ostensibly, The Void is a first-person action-adventure with RPG elements. But to describe it as such would make it sound relatively familiar. It’s not. It’s hugely strange. It’s about as art-game as it’s possible to get without straying into the realms of internet-hidden obscurity. The Void skips from first-person action, to menu-based management, to map-screen strategy, and hits all the gaps in between. It’s also mainly controlled via an elaborate drawing system, in which you manipulate the world by painting symbols with the mouse. As you collect new hearts, new actions open up to you. You’ll draw one symbol to employ your shield, another to form an attack. There’s one to give Colour away, and another to prise it out of the rock.
Theoretically, it’s brilliant. In practice, it’s not quite. The Void isn’t clever enough in its movement recognition to fully service the idea. Colour is so rare in this place – increasingly as the clock ticks on – that it must be conserved at all times. When the game can’t always identify that you’ve used the right symbol, only drawn it slightly bigger or smaller than it’s expecting, it’s a problem. Drawing the wrong symbol sometimes means you simply don’t perform the action. Other times, you lose valuable Colour, to potentially disastrous effect.
It’s not The Void’s only slight technical problem. I experienced some pretty noticeable slowdown at times, for no discernible reason. The art design is overwhelmingly wonderful, but the engine behind it simply isn’t impressive enough to excuse these drastic reductions in framerate. Leave the game running for long periods of time, and the problems seem to get worse. Things start to pause frequently, and loading screens become increasingly stubborn. It’s almost as if the design is pushing the tech to its limits, and something’s not quite coping.
There’s a definite low-budget feel here. Anyone who suffered Pathologic’s bizarrely botched translation will be relieved to hear this fairs rather better, with a poetic script that seems intentional this time, along with full – and decent – voice acting. But the game’s humble origins remain. There’s the odd camera quirk here and there, animation glitches every now and then, and a couple of minor bugs. It’s stuff that Ice-Pick fanatics will happily gloss over, of course – and with perfect reason. But it’s worth a mention, because – well – Ice-Pick fanatics are pretty much a minority within the videogaming world. There’s a reason for that dedicated following, but there are a whole load of reasons why it’s not any bigger than it is.
//The end of the world as we know it
That’s kind of why I’m happy writing this without having finished the game. This core market is going to be overjoyed with The Void. It’s artful, clever and deeply fascinating. But it’s also hugely inaccessible, and I’d imagine a great deal of people are going to buy it out of curiosity, find it interesting, but never actually have the patience to see it to the end. I’m determined to reach it myself one day (and am told there are multiple resolutions to the story), but the difficulty spikes, the meandering pace, and my own savegame stupidity will probably prevent further progress for a while yet.
Patience really will be key. The Void is incredibly slow, whether it’s your walking speed, or just the velocity with which the game moves. It takes a good few hours before it even thinks about getting to the point. It’s still teaching you basic mechanics by hour four.
That’s going to put a lot of people off. You’d be perfectly justified in dismissing it as a sluggish, confusing mess after a couple of hours, and never returning. Then again, there’s an abundance of people who’ll relish in the way the agonising pace synergises with the oppressive atmosphere. The Void is an unpleasant place to be, and having to crawl through it so slowly is staggeringly affecting.
It’s very rarely fun. But it is a viciously beautiful, enormously interesting experience. Go in with unreasonable expectations and you’ll find yourself quickly scared away. But those prepared for a trying, exhausting atmosphere piece, and those who are willing to look past a few technical hiccups, will find their most brilliant nightmares blossoming into life.
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