Trouble Thinking

July 16, 2010

The Void: A Portrait of the Artist as a Bunch of Terrifying Shit

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , — Durandal @ 9:15 am

Oh hello there

So I just finished one of the weirdest but most interesting games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing: The Void. My review would be

The Void: Too hard by half, confusing as hell, play on Easy or with cheats in order to see all of the spectacular art. 7/10

But that doesn’t nearly get across why I think you, even those of you who’ve never played any game ever, should play this. Because I know no one will ever heed my incredibly accurate recommendations, as I am a modern Cassandra, I’m going to try to describe why I found this game amazing.

Every game could learn from this art design

You awake to a surreal black-and-white landscape. As you walk toward land you see a tree erupt in beautiful gold veins of color, and are told by a soft female voice that “This is a desert of the threshold of death. I think it’s underground… but not deep.” This is Sister Nameless, who guides you early on in the game. She’s also one of the first pieces of evidence that this game is something special.

Sister Nameless tries to guide you as best as she can, and as such gives you a tutorial about how to manipulate the game universe. The central gameplay conceit is that you are a lost soul, perched on the brink between True Death and renewed life. Souls by nature process Color. You gather Color from the world into your Lympha, organs designed to collect and hold Color. But in order to survive the emptiness of the Void, you need to have Color in your Heart. You fill your heart with Color from your Lympha, and when you’re in the Void it pumps that color into Nerva, which contain all the color you’ve processed.

The color in your Nerva can then be donated to inanimate objects in order to animate them. Using this knowledge, you can “grow” Color by donating it to certain objects, like saplings. You can also hunt creatures that begin to appear as more color enters the world, and mind thick veins of color by using your power to shatter the rock that surrounds them. Every 99 seconds, a new Cycle occurs. At the beginning of each Cycle, new Color enters the world through the objects you animated, ready to be drained to feed you. If that sounds complicated, you’re correct.

You find out from Sister Nameless that The Void is a world defined by a series of chambers connected by fibrous roads. For the most part the chambers are closed from you. The only way to travel to further than the constricting limits of her chambers is to feed her color until she has the strength to open the way to other Sisters, whose domains you can reach when you’ve filled their hearts.

Sister Nameless then tells you the Brothers are coming soon, and she needs you to help her so that she can protect you. She says you need to grow as much Color as you can as quickly as you can, and fill her hearts with color, so that she can open the way for you to escape. She also tells you to destroy any “Predators” that appear in your gardens, as the Brothers despise these Color-destroying pests, and if you act like enough like a Brother they might allow you to live. Of course, she’s disastrously wrong.

The Void doesn’t give you a Tutorial, The Void gives you someone who is trying her best to help. Sister Nameless knows more than you do, but she doesn’t know everything. She doesn’t know why the Brothers exist, or why they hate the Predators, or why Color exists or why Color is going to destroy The Void and every bit of life in it.

The first Brother you meet is Brother Mantid, one of the eldest. He’s a hideous, deformed monstrosity and I don’t use those words lightly. He arrives slowly, crawling in from Nightmare. The first thing he does is chastise you for helping Sister Nameless. The sisters are dangerous, he insists. Though the Brothers love and protect them, the Sisters crave only the destruction of the Void, the destruction of Heaven. He warns you that while the Brothers are considering inducting you into their sacred order, any mistakes on your part will not be looked upon kindly. Some brothers insist you are here to shatter heaven and throw them back into the Nightmare, and Mantid is watching you closely to see if their suspicions are confirmed. From this moment onward, you are fated to be a disappointment to someone.

And this is not a man you want to disappoint.

You continue existing in the Void, converting Color in your hearts. You quickly discover that there’s not going to be enough color to keep you alive unless you manage your gardens well. You pump as much Color as you can into them, and in return you get back more than you gave. The key is keeping just enough to stay alive while growing enough to keep building up the total amount of Color you can access.This is harder than it sounds. The game makes you constantly hunger for color, and fear that you might not manage to make it past this Cycle.

The other sisters tell you that there’s a way out of the Void, if you can only grow enough color to fill them completely, you can break through to the next level, to a greater world above. Each new sister you unlock has a surreal, beautiful set of Chambers to explore, continually granting you new Hearts and new places to grow and harvest Color. Each Sister also hints at the true nature of the world, and insists that you grant them Color so that they can be the one to break into the Level above. So you pour your Nerva out into the world and the Sisters over and over.

A face you can trust

This angers the Brothers greatly. They, having ascended from the Nightmare below, are convinced that the Void is Heaven. Imagining a better world is heresy, and trying to get to a better world will destroy the Heaven they work to protect. They explain to you that the Void is in fact a living being, who they call The Sleeper. Their only purpose is to protect the Sleeper from the falling into True Death, and the way they do that is by carefully collecting and guarding the very last drops of Color the Sleeper possesses. Loosing color on the world will waste the last lifeblood of the Sleeper on trifles.

Eventually, you begin to see that they’re correct. The world falls apart around you, because rules that you didn’t know about are constantly working on your actions. Every time you used color, some of it was spilling out. The more that spilled, the more Predators were animated. Remember when Sister Nameless told you the Brothers hated predators? Killing them by filling them to bursting with Color was probably not the most sensible move. Your continued use of color to defend and feed yourself is creating more and more horrors and slowly killing the gardens that the Sisters have opened to you.  The Brothers are right. All of your actions, well meaning as they are, are contributing to something horrible that you had no way of foreseeing.

At some point in all this, Color begins to speak to you directly. Color wants you, desperately, to break through to the next level of being. According to Color, your purpose is to destroy the Void, and leave it behind. You have the choice of breaking through yourself and becoming a living Soul once again by becoming the Sleeper, or allowing a single Sister to break through for you and inspire the Sleeper herself. Which may explain why Color seems to have arranged it so that everyone living in the Void is learning to hate you. Brothers because you threaten them, Sisters because in the end you can only choose one of them.

The Void is a game about creating. It’s about the fact that in order to create something new that is truly worthwhile, you may have to leave behind everything you’ve built and everyone you’ve depended on. It’s about the fact that creation inevitably has unintended effects, and that even when a lesson is learned the damage may be irreversible. It’s about the way ideas and emotion can bring you back from the brink or drop you deeper.

The Void is a game in which you fail people. You work logically from principles that you’ve been taught and attempt to make a better world. And in the process you disappoint, injure, and finally destroy. For all the right reasons, you hope.

I’ve said a lot about the game here, but really the best thing you can do is play it for yourself. With the Easy patch, or cheats, you can see the game in an afternoon or two, and it is more than worth it. I’ve never experienced a story that exploited my own confusion and ignorance to dramatic effect so well.

It's waiting for you!

2 Comments »

  1. […] not remember Icepick Lodge, so allow me to refresh your memory: the last two games they made were The Void and Pathologic. Their remit tends to be “horrific journey into strange hellscape lacking […]

    Pingback by Cargo! FUN from Icepick Lodge! « Trouble Thinking — February 2, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  2. […] so as I mentioned in a previous post, Icepick lodge is a Russian game developer with a penchant for releasing odd, dada-ist horror games […]

    Pingback by Cargo! Released Without Warning! « Trouble Thinking — April 22, 2011 @ 9:29 am


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