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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: Closure

When a friend of mine first said "Hey, have you seen this? It looks like your game," I was pretty angry at first that someone was already selling a game that kind of looked like mine and used similar mechanics, not least of which because that game looked awesome. When people at BostonFIG looked at our game, they'd say, "It reminds me of something, um, it's a recent game..." and I'd say "Closure." And usually I was right.
Together, the protagonists in our game even have the same number of legs.
Closure is a 2d puzzle-platformer that takes a number of cues from games like Braid and Limbo. Like Braid, the emphasis is on the "puzzle" part (Limbo emphasizes the "platformer" part), and like Limbo, it reveals its narrative silently, preferring to evoke emotion rather than tell a story. It's not wholly clear who your character is; you play as a strange creature that adopts personas for each of the different environments you explore. The chief mechanic in the game is light; much of the screen is dark, and light is only produced by a few objects, usually fragile glass spheres that you can carry with you. If an object isn't visible, it doesn't exist, so you can make obstacles vanish by shining spotlights away from them, but you can also fall through a floor to your death if you forget to bring a light with you. There are a few other mechanics introduced later, but all of them revolve around this one, and all are simple enough - though the puzzles that involve them usually aren't.
It's not uncommon for a level to be mostly this dark throughout.

The puzzles themselves will always be at the forefront of your attention - each one is self-contained in its own room, with your objective always to get through a door so you can proceed to the next level. This construction means you'll never loose sight of the fact that you're playing a game; the puzzles aren't especially organic, so it always feels like you're solving for solving's sake (as opposed to games like Riven or Limbo, where forward progress is about learning how to make do with the tools the environment gives you). Still, they're incredibly fun, and some quite devious. The pacing is excellent; you'll walk into a new room with no sense of the puzzle, but after a few minutes of exploring and lighting up the room, you'll come to understand the objective and how best to carry it out. Usually figuring it out is the hard part, though there are a few, especially towards the end, that demand precise execution and punish you for small mistakes. It's a little frustrating sometimes, but not to the point of distraction or disappointment.

Some of the background art is gorgeous, when the game chooses to show it.
Despite being a 2d black-and-white puzzle platformer, the art style in Closure is quite different from Limbo's. Both make great use of light and shadow, but Closure has fewer grays, and much more scenic; you'll really feel like you're meant to stop and look at the backgrounds, and doing so is essential to piecing together the narrative. The audio is fabulous. Sound effects are used sparsely but to great effect, from the glassy shattering of light-producing globes to the little clown-honk made when you shoot a target in later levels. The music is grand and intense, and does almost as much work setting the mood as the visuals do.

And mood-building is critical to the success of the game. As mentioned earlier, the story isn't told explicitly. You're given impressions, and those impressions are enough to evoke feelings that are, at times, quite powerful. By the end, the story itself feels like a puzzle that can be solved, and though some players may find that attractive it may seem frustrating or unnecessary to others. At the end of the day, Closure is part of a tradition, alongside games like Braid and Limbo, that has only begun to develop recently. This tradition takes simple game templates and finds ways to develop them so that the gameplay is fresh despite being a variation on a relatively played-out style - it's kind of a "platformer-with-a-gimmick" model, and it's how a lot of indie devs are making games because it's easy to execute and there's a large player base already familiar with it. Importantly, these games try to use their mechanics to tell their stories, and they're often looking to tell stories that are more complex and thoughtful than video games are usually credited with. The trend that worries me is that these stories sometimes grow too obtuse or vague to really understand - it's easy to spend as many hours trying to solve Braid's story as its puzzles, and the muteness in Limbo and Closure made me wonder whether I'd missed something or whether the games were meant to be vague. It's great if games tell more thoughtful stories; it's less great if those stories alienate parts of their audience by being obtuse or overly intellectual.

That never feels like the point in Closure, though. The story is light and sometimes confusing, but the melancholy it evokes is powerful, and the way it uses its mechanics of illumination and illusion to create that melancholy is spot-on. If you like trying to piece together the narrative, collecting all the game's secrets, do; if not, enjoy the puzzles and the art, and let the mood carry you through. Whichever you prefer, Closure is delightful and memorable, and definitely worth exploring.

Site: http://closuregame.com
Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/72000/

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