When we look at making “games as art” in most cases it goes against what has made the industry famous, the gameplay ;in its place you’ll find unique storytelling and art. I’ve been playing the Void lately and it succeeds in not only having a strange story and visuals, but the gameplay to back it up.
As hinted by the title of this entry, color is the name of the game here. In The Void color exists in 4 forms: First in its collectible state in the chambers of the void. Here the game is played in first person allowing the player to wander around the surreal world, picking up color from the area. The color that the player picks up goes into a stockpile, think of this as unrefined materials waiting to be process. This type of color can be placed in the numerous hearts the player can find. Color in a heart acts as the player’s hitpoints, the more color you have in your hearts the more health you have. When the player leaves a chamber and goes into the void or map time starts ticking and the color in the hearts is absorbed. What this means is that if you don’t keep putting color in the hearts you will die when you reach 0. The only way to move around in the void and to keep the game moving is to be in the void, so why should you use up your life force like that? Going through your color moves it into the final state into your pallet, here color is now part of your arsenal and can be used to attack, move around the void, draw glyphs (aka spells) and to give away which I’ll get to in a bit. What makes it so interesting is the cycle of death the game has made for itself.
To advance in The Void you literally have to kill yourself to move time and to have the necessary ammo to interact with the world. Pumping numerous hearts with color at the same time will give you a lot of health but will also drain your stockpile that much faster. It is very easy to have a lot of color in your pallet and not enough to feed yourself with. Color that can be picked up is randomize at the start of each cycle. You can also harvest color in three ways that I’ve found so far in game, one is to mine certain spots in chambers using two glyphs, from the insects you find in gardens and giving color to dead trees bringing them back to life and to harvest in the next cycle. As you can see things are certainly not boring here, but there is more.
Color besides acting as your health also affects both you and the world. Each color in the game when inside your hearts will provide a perk to you, such as increase defense or speed. The more of the same color you have the greater the bonus which you can see on your body screen. However each time you use color it spills out into the void providing a negative affect, such as increase enemy damage or their numbers. One of the most important lessons in the game is to pump certain stats up to their max before doing certain actions to get the biggest benefit to them. Moving on it’s time to talk about the denizens you’ll meet in the void.
The two groups that you will be interacting with are the sisters and the brothers. Sisters exist in their own private chambers desiring color. Each one has two colors they prefer and supposedly a third that will kill them but I haven’t gotten far enough to confirm that. Giving them color will treat you to them swimming or posing and by giving them enough color, their clothing will come off (as you can probably tell, not a game for the minors). For filling up one of their hearts, you’ll have access to their chambers that make up their domain, filling up two hearts will allow you to move on to the next area in the void. While the sisters are just lying around not doing much, the brothers are far more active.
The brothers act as the guardians of the void and will kill you if you go against them. As the game opens up the brothers are hiding away, but as you go through each cycle they will start to appear one by one. They hunger for color much like you and the sisters and will patrol around the void snacking on color in the chambers. You can protect your gardens by charging up spike rocks to act as a deterrent. They also provide you with demands or quests to do in the game and give you a certain number of cycles to complete them. If you fail they will attack you and in the early stages of the game this usually means game over. They also like to talk to while moving around the void, mostly talking about the void or how much they hate you. There is a lot going on in The Void and it is a shame the game falls into the same traps as most art games.
The common theme in most art games is a minimum explanation of how things work forcing the player to learn through the world. This works when we are dealing with basic game mechanics but not so much when have a system as complex as The Void. The game has an annoying habit of giving important tips way after the actual mechanic is introduced in game. What this means is that a lot of the learning in the game is done through failure which for most games isn’t bad, like roguelikes. However in a structured game like The Void what means is that you will be replaying past sections again until you get it right. Another detail that hurts learning the game is the constant time restraints you have, in order to see the map and what color is available you have to go into the void. Meaning that time will count down and the brothers will start moving around. As I mentioned earlier it is very easy to paint yourself into a corner (no pun intended) and having to restart again. Without spoiling the game, the biggest tip I can give first time players is to follow the instructions in game exactly for at least 12 cycles. Don’t try to go off on your own or rush things along or you may shoot yourself in the foot. Another problem is that a few of the objectives aren’t explained all that well which can screw up first time players.
When it comes to the actual game mechanics I just have minor quibbles. First I wish there was a grab all option instead of holding down the left mouse button waiting for the color to fill up on the body screen. Having to draw the glyphs once again reminds me how horrible of an artist I am but I do commend the developers for having the foresight to slow the game down while drawing. One strange omission is that the only glyph that seems to show up along the bottom of the screen to remind you is the “give” glpyh, it would have been easier if the rest would show up instead of having to go back and forth between the journal screen. Overall The Void is an interesting game and something that needs to be played by anyone complaining we don’t have enough original game ideas. Now whether or not you will enjoy the game is another story.