One More Go?
Video games can convey messages in a much more powerful way than other mediums. Unlike film, TV or music – which all act as passive pastimes – video games can convey its message and ideas in a much more powerful and profound manner.
The indie game circuit has been flirting with these ideas for a long time, continuing to churn out great titles that touch on interesting ideas and topics. Such is the case for SHUT IN, a game seemingly designed specifically for this very situation we all find ourselves facing globally.
Like the title would suggest, SHUT IN is a game about a young man shutting himself away from the world and struggling with depression. Every day is a mundane nightmare of dread, with even the simplest of tasks feeling like a pointless endeavour. After all, with everything going wrong and our futile existence a mere blink in the lifespan of the universe, what’s the point in even trying?
And this mindset is exactly what SHUT IN manages to emulate so effective. Through the use of its sarcastic, self-deprecating text commentary, SHUT IN serves up a miserable slice of depressive puzzling.
The framework here is much the same as the ghosts of point-and-click past, and whether you’ve played Monkey Island, Grim Fandango or Life Is Strange, the controls and ideas are very much the same here.
You control your pixelated character across a series of side-scrolling sections inside a house full of secrets and darkness. Most objects can be interacted with via the space bar, key items can be found and assigned in your inventory (selected with the shift key) while various vague hints and clues are dotted all over the place.
The main mission in SHUT IN requires you to carry out a series of mundane tasks including brushing your hair and eating. However, it does so by mixing this in with a fantastical horror vibe and a need to jump through various hoops just to finish one or two tasks.
Along the way there’s flesh-eating bugs, flickering lights, ominous bumps and groans and a whole slew of nasties waiting to plunge you back into that infamous “game over” screen (complete with sarcastic clapping for good measure)
While the game is advertised as having a run-time of around an hour, in truth that’s only the case if you know exactly what you’re doing and can easily figure the puzzles out. Most people will probably get around 2/3 hours worth of play-time from this one, with a few frustrating puzzles that feel poorly executed.
The most notable comes around the midway point of the game with a microwave. While you find a scrap of paper depicting “01” in the oven, it’s not clear what the seconds should be. It’s only by sheer luck that I stumbled upon the solution while googling as I believed I missed a crucial clue along the way. Alas, it appears other players had a similar issue with this section.
In fact, this is actually a problem with some of the key moments in the game, with a lack of hints given when you’re stuck and a save system relying on you saving when you die as opposed to a specific button. That’s to say nothing of that aforementioned microwave which literally has you waiting in one spot for 1 minute 34 seconds while it finishes.
I understand this is to reinforce the boredom of waiting for a microwave, I couldn’t help but feel I’d messed up a puzzle along the way. While that’s not a deal breaker, given the game’s emphasis on telling you the controls early on, it’s a shame that the same level of attention hasn’t spilled across to some of the more frustration puzzles.
Despite that though, the tone and atmosphere of this indie is really quite good. The themes shine through nicely and the apathetic commentary and lackadaisical manner of confronting these challenges works well against the minimalistic soundtrack. That allure of the commentary, constantly reminding you there’s “always tomorrow” tugs relentlessly at your baggy, tattered t-shirt as you shuffle through the hallways trying to leave the house. And that is ultimately the key aim here.
In perhaps a cruel sense of irony, the end-goal of SHUT-IN is to leave your house. In 2020 that’s perhaps easier said than done but SHUT IN is a cheeky reminder of what a mammoth task this can be for so many people. Those suffering from depression, anxiety or feeling apathetic toward the humdrum of everyday life should absolutely check this game out.
If you can look past some of the frustrating puzzles and have a bit of patience with this, SHUT IN is a decent game to shut yourself away with for a few hours… or you could always wait for tomorrow?
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