The debate over whether or not the genre of the “walking simulator” is or isn’t an actual, proper game has been going on for quite some time. My first foray into that debate came about with the release of games like Dear Esther and Gone Home. Generally I’m in favor of a walking simulator: Firewatch and the What Remains Of Edith Finch are among my favorite games of all time. But occasionally, you get your hands on a walking sim that is as hollow as a chocolate rabbit.
My most recent example of that experience is Fugue In Void.
Right off the bat, Fugue In Void lets you know what sort of experience you’re about to get into with the words, “This is a story of my mind,” followed closely by “This is my mind.” And that little piece of Hot Topic bumper sticker rhetoric was enough to make me want to turn off my computer immediately.
Fugue In Void is an experience about atmosphere. Strange sounds and voices call out to you as you make your way through surreal, isolated rooms and landscapes. It’s really not anything that requires your effort. In fact, Fugue In Void drives that point home by starting the game with ten full minutes ponderous, tedious imagery. In fact, when the game actually got to the part that I could play, I was actually shocked. By that time, I’d almost forgotten that this was meant to be something I could interact with. And after the “this is my mind” crap, this was my biggest sticking point. Ten full minutes of surreal imagery that don’t further the action of the game is an indication that the creator doesn’t respect your time. A game isn’t something that is done to you, it’s something that you play with.
The game’s interaction, such as it is, initially involves you wandering through a large temple, attempting to make your way to some sort of exit. There aren’t puzzles to solve, per se: mostly you just need to walk and occasionally step on a button to open a door. As you go, there’s no narration, no story, no clues to a larger narrative: just the remnants of the words “this is my mind” ringing merrily in your head.
You continue on like this for several minutes, moving from place to place, looking at the scenery and, if you’re anything like me, wondering what the hell this is all leading to.
Eventually, the game gives up the ghost of even forcing you to work your way through everything yourself, and just throws a series of one shot rooms at you, each of which have some sort of centerpiece you can admire until the designer has decided, “okay, that’s enough of that,” and places you in the next room. These levels require nothing from you except to sit and wait.
This goes on and on through temples, an admittedly very picturesque desert landscape, and eventually some sort of cyberpunk skyline. And then the game ends. Well, sort of. Actually, it thanks you for playing and just continues on with the title screen: I had to Alt Tab my way out to end my session.
I will say this for Fugue In Void: some of the environments that you investigate are lovely, with a real sense of atmosphere to them. The sound design lends a mysterious, creepy quality to everything. I mentioned the desert before because it really stuck out for me. A twilight Sahara with a looming cityscape in the distance: that was very nice. It’s a shame, however, that there was nothing to do with it. You’re just meant to sit and stare until it’s time for the next scene.
And that’s everything’s that wrong with Fugue In Void: this isn’t a game, it’s a tech demo. At so many of the areas I couldn’t help but think, “Yes, this is very pretty indeed. I wonder what I could do if it weren’t for the limits of, well, everything.” Sitting and looking isn’t a game: it’s a slide show.
“This is a game about my mind.”
Good fucking lord.
If the creator of this game was dead serious with that Livejournal line, then they need to do some soul searching. Because if that’s true, then their mind is very pretty, but completely devoid of any sort of substance.
I never get this frustrated about games that are complete trash: at least you know what you’ve got with those games. Imagine getting a present that is wrapped in pretty, shiny paper, with a big red bow on the top. And you open it up and nothing’s inside. What a goddamn bummer. Fugue In Void leaves me rattled because it feels like someone somewhere along the way decided that the barest effort was good enough before shipping it out and demanding six bucks for it. Well, I don’t think anyone ought to pay six bucks for this.
I’ve argued against gamers in the past who claimed that the weakness in a walking sim is that a person could watch someone else play it and get the exact same experience, which I don’t believe is true. I got something out of personally playing Dear Esther, and that’s essentially a short story you wander your way around.
But Fugue In Void does nothing to entice your average gamer. If I had any advice to its creator, it would be this: take that atmosphere you worked so hard to develop, and then (and hear me out on this one), make a game from it.