You play as a redhead named only as “Orange”, who’s taking part in the show for an over-the-wall visa to see his family. You start out as a reluctant participant in the show’s “studies” to place you in a role, but unfortunately, throughout the course of the game, you start to spiral down further into darkness, pushing innocent civilians to their deaths and flat-out killing them just to get ahead.
The concept alone is enough to make you want to drown in a pool of nihilism, but thanks to the dry humor and Orange’s smart-ass side comments on every level, it’s bound to bring out a chuckle or two. I personally enjoyed his very meta quips and his smart-alecky attitude to ease the horrific reality of what he’s doing. Particularly, he has an antagonistic yet friendly relationship with this black crow that follows him around and taunts him, supposedly the embodiment of his own hope in all this. The witty back-and-forth between the two definitely make crawling through dark tunnels and leaping across radiation-filled chambers more tolerable.
Throughout each level, you also come across people given roles by the show to either be civilians or guards. But as the days go on, you actually witness the “guards” starting to become more and more brutal toward the “civilians”, which reminds me of the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1972: a social psychology experiment that kind of results in the same thing – with assigned “prisoners” and “prison officers” struggling against perceived power.
The old Prince of Persia-esque style of gameplay, while charming and very nostalgic, can be frustrating at times, because Orange doesn’t always jump the way you want him to, resulting in gruesome and untimely deaths. Frustrating controls don’t work all the time, especially for the iOS – ten minutes in and I had to give up and grab a controller. Thank goodness for the Easy Mode, or I never would have managed.
The soundtrack is pretty unremarkable, but the atmospheric pixel art is absolutely breathtaking though, as plenty of scenes actually look pretty darn good, if only you weren’t running from dogs and crocodiles and murderous fish.
I particularly appreciated the game’s attempt at lightening the mood throughout the game, with a certain scene that slaps David Attenborough’s famous voice-over onto a boat ride ala-nature show style. The whole thing actually makes things a little bit more complicated, because while you’re supposed to feel terrible that you’re using people as bridges over deadly spikes, the game doesn’t want you to feel too bad, because they’re actually wearing protective armor anyway (at least, at the beginning). Your roommate Joe, in particular, makes you feel like the scum of the earth just as much as your conscience does, but it seems like you lose that completely anyway the longer you stay in the show.
The story is pretty predictable, but I still wanted to push through to see how things end (there is a secret ending! Neither is satisfying, though). On the iOS particularly, the experience is okay; but I couldn’t help but wonder how better it would actually be if it were on a bigger screen (I kept squinting). I mean, I’m already using a controller, so I thought I’d try mirroring my screen onto my laptop, and lo and behold, I enjoyed myself more – which isn’t such a good thing for the iOS release. It just means that the game is better played on the PC or on the Switch and not on mobile phones, but maybe that’s just me.
Overall, the game makes light of sacrificing your soul for selfish reasons, reminds you of the importance of shoes, and makes you realize how scripted the world can be sometimes (planks are submerged in termite solution to give them just the right amount of fragility for you to fall off). There are some scenes that you can’t skip, and the game kinda goes very meta plenty of times. Unfortunately, this whole “holding up a mirror to society” thing does get old, and it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. I had such high hopes for this game, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on it. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly live up to the hype.