- Replay Value
Monochroma, from developer Nowhere Studios, is a platformer that tells the story about a boy and his kid brother. The game takes place in a 1950’s setting, where we have more modern technology such as robots. A single company dominates the land, simply referred to with a big red “M”, and has come into the once peaceful farm country and built an industrial polluted nightmare.
The opening scene focuses on a boy, distinguished in a drab black and white world, by his bright red scarf. You see your kid brother in the background, flying a kite. As you learn the basic platforming mechanics of the game, from pushing crates to jumping, you explore a quiet farm scenery while your kid brother flies his kite. You meet up on the roof, which proceeds to collapse underneath you, breaking your brother’s leg. From here, it seems this game may have some promise. However, Monochroma can be best described as a polished tech demo of a game, rather than a full fledged experience.
The first thing you notice is the art style. It is hard not to draw comparisons to the indie hit, Limbo, as the world feels much of the same, playing with the effects of black and white. Monochroma has its own differences in art style, primarily with its 3D textured world. This works well to the games advantage as it can embody more of the world, giving beautiful detail on the landscapes and showing you how the corporation M has affected what used to be a peaceful place. Monochroma also does well in highlighting textures in the world, painting certain aspects in bright red. This allows certain objects in the world to pop out at you, naturally drawing your eye to the objects the developers want you to notice. This applies from the red scarf around the main character’s neck, to the kit your brother is flying or the goggles on his head all naturally pull your attention to those details. It also highlights the company’s logos and propaganda using the same technique.
Using the red to highlight detail helps to invoke a more angry tone, making you feel like these things are unwanted in the world. In the black and white world, the lighting in the game shines as well, creating realistic lighting dynamics which also serve as indicators of important objects, such as barrels you can use to jump on or platforms that will lead you further along. The lights also serve a purpose for the game play as well, as these are the only spots you can put your brother down to make jumps you cannot make while carrying him. The art style in this game is fantastic and looks beautiful on high graphical settings, giving you the feeling of hopelessness and despair as well as ensure you are seeing what the developer wants you to see instead of letting the subtitle details go to waste.
The story in Monochroma, in the beginning, showed a lot of promise. After certain events in the story, I was sure that that event would lead into a much deeper story about a boy and his sibling and showing their struggles. Instead, this event essentially lead to a cheap deadening of the narrative. Monochroma features virtually no characterization and the fact that I am referring to the brother as that is my own personal interpretation of it. The game does nothing to provide any character to anyone in the game, even the main character himself. They end up as mindless puppets, being controlled for the sake of continuing through the world. Your brother has no personality and before, he is just another thing to worry about. After using him to sit on a platform, I nearly forgot him almost a dozen times, making me run back quite a way to pick him back up again. Even when you get into the town, there is no context of where you are going or why you keep heading in the same direction. One would think that you would take your brother to a hospital or at least back home because of his injury. Instead, you are forced to lug him around the entire game, essentially using him for your own devices.
As a platformer, this game is very basic as well. Most of the puzzles revolve around well timed jumps and pushing barrels and boxes to reach a higher platform. This would be fine if the jumping mechanic worked as it should. There were many times where the jump button would not work or there would be a second delay, spelling the course of death. This was the most aggravating aspect of the game, forcing you to retry a puzzle over and over again until the jump button decided to work. There were also many times where you were forced to do something light lighting a barrel on fire, where the game had presented no context of that ahead of time, making you spend minutes trying different things until you figured out what you had to do. This would be fine in a game if there was some sort of precursor you could call back to know what you had to do. Many mechanics seemed to be pulled out of thin air, such as jumping on a pipe to break it, which had no context prior to that implementation. In Monochroma, there are events where you must out run a guard or a truck to continue on. If the guard catches you, you have to restart the event. This serves no context in the game other than to build artificial suspension and it never seemed to work out. In the entire experience, I found the mechanics of Monochroma to be highly aggravating and a lot of time, the simple mechanics of the game felt broken, forcing you to play the same part over and over again.
Monochroma advertises that it has an award winning soundtrack. This statement would generally be true if there was any music in the game. The soundtrack is only heard during the “intense” aspects of the game, amounting to what felt about 5 minutes of the entire experience. From what I heard, it was an amazing track and the game would have done itself a service if there had been more of it. The gameplay sounds were also subpar as well, often sound effects sounding as if they were recorded in a tin can. There were times, such as the trains, that sounded realistic and they were a pleasure to listen to but once again, they came too far and few between. I often found myself listening to music or podcasts while playing as the audio was not stimulating or emotion provoking like in other games. It was just there and there was nothing special or spectacular about it.
Monochroma, as an art piece, is something fantastic to look at. Its use of color and it textures were a delight to observe and made me want to know more about the world that I was taking place in. However, to my dismay, the rest of the game did not make me feel that way. With a poor to nonexistent story, its mediocre puzzles and gameplay, broken controls and the lack stimulating sounds and music, this game felt like an amazing concept design. If these other aspects could have been fleshed out and taken more time on it, this could have simply been amazing and I look forward to what else Nowhere Studios can do to expand on the world they painted and created with their visuals.