Plasticity: Saving the World in 40 Minutes

Plasticity Game Title

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw

Developer: Student Project
Released: 24th May 2019
Price: Free

Platforms: Windows
Available on: Steam
Engine: Unity

Plasticity is a 2.5D puzzle-platformer created by 30 students from the USC Games Programme in collaboration with its Environmental Studies Department. It was produced in an effort to inspire others to care for animals and the environment and to raise awareness of the long-lasting damage that single-use plastics are causing

The game is set in the year 2140 and starts in what appears to be a rubbish dump but isn’t. The protagonist Noa is wandering across an Earth on which plastic consumption never ended, hoping to find the fabled Avalon Island still intact and habitable. There are chances to interact with the world and it’s few remaining inhabitants along the way, opportunities to either help or harm the environment. These interactions may or may not have long-lasting repercussions and this is revealed to the player later in the game.

Plasticity Screenshot - Opening Area and Vending Machine

Plasticity’s art style is simple and impressionistic using mainly warm and muted tones. It is pleasant and understated and helps give the game a relaxed feel. The music is also calming, with the exception of some tension building moments in which it became quite dramatic. Sound effects, such as animal and weather noises, were also implemented well and felt organic.

There are a few small bugs (not totally unexpected from a free student project), such as the sound cutting out occasionally and some glitchy looking animations but these are minor issues that don’t affect the gameplay. As a keyboard-only game, I expected the controls to be a combination of WASD, E and Space but in fact, it used Ctrl and the four arrow keys; it is not possible to change this and so to begin with, it felt very unfamiliar.

Plasticity Screenshot - Rooftop Platforms

The puzzles in Plasticity are fairly basic and largely involve moving boxes in order to progress through the area, they are a nice addition but don’t add much other than mechanics, the smaller interactions are much more varied and meaningful. From time to time, Noa stumbles across places and items that trigger memories, usually of her mother. Whilst these are somewhat emotive and add an extra layer of narrative, they also felt overplayed and twee, with forced references to ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘looking after our home’. The cluttered but barren nature of the lands she is traversing was a much subtler, and in some ways more poignant way to convey a message about the environment.

Towards the end of the game, the scene skips about a decade of Noa’s life and we get a glimpse of the future she has helped to build. She is then able to retrace her steps and witness the impact her small actions had. Unfortunately, despite the interactions earlier in the game having a varied effect on the environment in that particular area, the overall outcome, and ending to the game is always positive. I felt this undermined the message and the intentions of the game a little and that an element of ambiguity would have served to better highlight the damage we have done, and continue to do to our planet.

Plasticity Screenshot - 10 Years Later

Plasticity is a well-meaning and well-executed game and for the most part, does a good job of getting its message across. It is short, lasting around 30-40 minutes, but the style, mechanics and lack of death combine to make a relaxing and thoughtful experience that I would happily recommend.

If you enjoy games with environmental or political themes, I’d also suggest playing Orwell and The Silent Age.

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