A Lacklustre But Interestingly Conceptualised Game
Walking simulators are to games what art-house is to film. Whilst the quality is a little hit or miss at times, both generally tend to have a strong thematic identity and attempt to tell a story in an artistic manner. In this respect, NORTH attempts something completely different by exploring themes around immigration and isolation in a video game format. Whilst the concept is certainly intriguing and NORTH nails its atmosphere and aesthetic, as a game this Indie title fails to deliver a cohesive experience. With a game time of under an hour, NORTH is a fleeting experience at best and one that slips up regularly with the narrative, pacing and gameplay. There’s certainly something unique here that raises hard hitting, societal questions but as a game, this is hard to recommend.
The narrative is delivered through a series of letters
After a brief cut scene featuring a rolling red soaked vista, the game introduces us to our silent main character. Told through a series of letters to his sister, our protagonist is a stranger in an alien country hoping to gain asylum and become accepted into society. In terms of concept, NORTH’s is solid and provocative enough to help it stand out against a myriad of other Indie games out there. The execution, however, is where the game falls flat.
With only a handful of locations, there isn’t much to explore in NORTH’s nightmarish, uneasy setting. Although it would devalue the game by superficially extending the areas that are here, there’s still a strong desire to see more of the world and perhaps showing people negatively reacting to your character rather than the static alien creatures depicted here would have done wonders to really help nail the hostile mood. The locations that are here look empty and unfinished, dominated by harsh polygonal shapes that become tiresome to look at after a while. NORTH follows a pretty methodical gameplay pattern too; explore an item to receive a prompt then go to a postbox and read the letter sent to your sister to help flesh out the world. This gameplay loop continues throughout and does result in quite a bit of backtracking across the same areas.
The handful of areas here look empty and unfinished
There’s a few very light problem solving sections here and a couple of areas that do shake up the gameplay from just walking from place to place but NORTH unfortunately features one massive, ugly game-breaking glitch that resulted in a hard reset 3 times. With no save file or loading and a game time of under an hour, this is really inexcusable from a game of this size. Essentially, there’s an area where you go to work but if you pick up a specific item from a vending machine before going into the next area and subsequently dying, the game doesn’t recognise you have the item when you re-spawn, consequently resulting in an inability to go any further. It’s a shame too because the rest of the game, at least from a technical perspective, doesn’t have any noticeable issues and runs perfectly.
All the non-playable characters are static but creepy nonetheless
The aesthetic and atmosphere of the game world is generally very good and consistent, with a creepy uneasiness hanging over large chunks of the game. This is helped somewhat by the art style which makes good use of black and whites whilst juxtaposing that with harsh pinks, reds and blue in specific areas late on. The water animation is surprisingly realistic too and the way the lighting reflects off this is very nicely rendered indeed.
Some of the imagery is unsettling and makes good use of colour
As an experience, NORTH is certainly an interesting, hard hitting exploration into immigration and isolation from a first person perspective but as a game NORTH fails to offer much in the way of fun. A game breaking glitch midway through the game sours the experience, especially considering the short length and inability to save the game, and coupled with the amount of backtracking you’ll be doing in the small handful of locations, NORTH outstays its welcome before the credits even roll. NORTH won’t be for everyone but for those curious enough to check this out, especially given the incredibly cheap price, NORTH is a unique but largely unsuccessful experiment that aims big but achieves very little.