October 19, 2015

Halftime Show: Monochroma and the Effects of Darkness

According to GameLengths.com, Monochroma by Nowhere Studios takes approximately 4.3 hours to finish. At two hours of logged time on Steam, I can safely assume that I'm about halfway into the game. This qualifies me enough to talk about Monochroma a little, but a real review will have to wait for another time.

Following one of my gameplay streams, my buddy Edward (@man0fbass on Twitter) pointed something out. "I was having technical issues the whole time," he complained in a Tweet on Saturday, "Like, the stream colors were all grey." The Kappa was strong here, or for the barely initiated, Ed was simply referring to the blacks and grays that Monochroma chose for its primary palette. While interesting, this design choice came with double-sided effects.

Settings and Secrets

Monochroma follows a story set in the American 1950s. A time of changing ideals, great advances in music and entertainment, and a lot of other big, exciting things for the booming country, many things we take nearly for granted in our homes today were just starting to become popular and widespread. Of those things, color television was a major component. Though by 1967, most broadcasts were in color, black and white television was still a major proponent and now icon of earlier television screens. Choosing to portray Monochroma similarly to this provided a chance to poke and jab at the time period in a clever way.

That said, the uses of monochrome in the game metaphorically went past the time period as the color red became introduced to the world. Besides giving important information like where switches and dangerous things were, the red introduced hope and familiarity to players in the forms of the two main characters - the big and little brother - the red also appears in the flowers placed throughout the levels, called 'secrets'. Out of the grim and grisly grays, secrets bring excitement and brief happiness into the dismal atmospheres that Monochroma provides.

A Dance in the Dark

By Steam user Mak-di
But secrets aren't the only things one finds in the dark. As areas are lit in accordance to where the brothers are walking, the contents of rooms are only revealed once the brothers have stepped into whatever lays before them. In most cases, this is just a few obstacles. In other instances...well, when I say children frozen in jars, do you get my drift? Yeah. That said, that was pretty well done, even when it ruffled my feathers in front of a small audience of stream viewers.

Then, there are the things in the dark that can kill you. The things you can't see because your vision is obscured by the product of light's absence, veiled by the finger-knitted sweater of night, your mind left to dance alone in the fleeting light from the switch you threw. Your time signature is the grinding of the cogs above you and the drip-drip-drip-KABOOM of the thunderstorm outside, and for all you can see (and by extension, know), the stage is all yours.

...oh, but mind the pitfall. Ooh... Ouch...

This, deep within the cadenza of spamming A, is where the darkness becomes incredibly counterintuitive. I understand using the darkness to obscure rooms to preserve the surprise, but to cover obstacles with darkness when the primary mechanic of the game does not involve this as a main condition makes things really darn annoying. For instance, on my stream today, I spent nearly ten minutes pacing a room before I realized that one of the walls actually stopped above the ground and that I could crouch down into it. As well, the unbalanced darkness of fields made it very difficult for me to gauge exactly what I could jump over, onto, and could just run by without being stopped long enough to be run over by a truck. How's that for darkness-induced dissonance?

The Halftime Report

With some squinting and help from my stream audience, I have been able to both trip and trump my way through about half of Monochroma. I'm loving all the little bits of story supplementing the rich, exciting atmosphere as I continue my dance with the dark, learning the intricacies and twisted bits of the gradually illuminated world before me. Will definitely be posting a larger, more complete review of the game once I finish.

1 comment:

  1. Your writing is always such a delight. " veiled by the finger-knitted sweater of night" and "your mind left to dance alone" were particularly a verbal dessert :D


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