“But my dear man, reality is only a Rorschach ink-blot, you know.” – Alan Watts
The Shattering is a first-person psychological thriller and walking simulator. Players take on the role of John and travel through the surreal but beautiful environments that make up his mind. Revisit past memories in a bid to discover the truth behind this intriguing story.
Developer: Super Sexy Software
Released: 21st April 2020
The Shattering is primarily a walking simulator with minimal interactivity beyond exploration and light interactions with objects such as opening drawers, pressing keys on a typewriter or taking a Rorschach test! There is no fail state, challenging puzzles or combat in the game and as such it is quite a causal feeling game, despite the themes and storyline. Exploration is fun, largely due to the strange, dynamic environments and the detail within telling the story, there are also occasional mild jump scares, though not so many that the novelty wears off!
The narrative focuses on the protagonist John who is being hypnotised(?) by some sort of professional in order to unlock memories and piece together the truth of his past and present, all the while not knowing what is real and what has been created to protect him. The game deals with serious subject matters and strong themes such as mental health, alcoholism, loss and bullying to name a few.
The story is told very much through the gameplay as well as John’s thoughts and responses. It is delivered in four acts and an epilogue including childhood, and the apartment, each has a different physical setting and recounts a different set of memories. The story is told well, creating intrigue and suspense and doing a good job of connecting the player to the protagonist and creating empathy before culminating in a crescendo of psychological horror.
The Shattering is almost entirely presented in black and white with just accents of colour, mostly in blue or red. The 3D artwork is realistic and detailed, often depicting surreal and dreamlike environments. The game has a unique look and the visuals really match the narrative, emphasising the lack of consciousness with plenty of disturbing imagery, especially towards the end of the game.
There is a lot of variety in the music which ranges from jazzy 1920’s numbers to eerie ethereal droning to familiar classic music such as Chopin. The emotive soundtrack is used well, fitting each scene and memory well, accentuating its atmosphere and meaning. Sound effects such as clocks chiming and footsteps are also well utilised to add to the creepiness of certain scenes as well as bring the world to life and immerse the player in it.
The Shattering is a great example of a story-driven game. It uses its minimal gameplay and unusual setting to tell the psychological tale within John’s memories. The visual styling is unique and effective, emphasising the surreal scenery and darker themes of the engaging and captivating narrative. Likewise, the sound design is top-notch, full of variety and emotion and really helps to immerse the player. Its limited interactivity and lack of challenge means it probably won’t appeal to everyone but I highly recommend this to fans of interactive fiction, especially those who appreciate subtle psychological horror.
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