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The Moon is out to get you!

  • Beregon
  • 12/06/2020 02:22 AM
  • 686 views
So, before I start the review, I'll be analyzing the overall plot of the game. There will be spoilers, so if you are interested in the game, you should probably play it first before reading this. It's pretty short, so it won't take long.

Gameplay

Perceiving Shapes is a very linear survival horror game. There are no puzzles, unless you count wandering around the hallways, looking for a key to open the next locked door a puzzle. Well, or pushing crates while being chased by something. Alright, and there's one door where you need to find a hammer to open it. That's pretty much it.

It's actually more focused on you travelling from spooky setpiece to spooky setpiece, with a few chase scenes sprinkled inbetween. The latter half introduces parts where you are wandering around empty hallways, looking for keys while trying to avoid hordes of giggling "mannequins" that half-heartedly chase you for a few steps if you get too close to them, but those are easily the worst parts of the game, feeling more like needless filler than something that actually fits into the game.

The game also takes an idea out of certain other horror games and has a few scenes where a psychiatrist interviews an unseen other character that can be named (hinted to be you, the player), asking you questions, one of those being "which of these three things are you most afraid of". Unsurprisingly, the thing you are most afraid of ends up chasing you in the game. I don't know if any of the other questions matter, they don't seem to.

When it comes to the chases, they are of varying quality. Two out of the possible three first chases are pretty nice, but the third one requires you to outrun your chaser while pushing boxes out of the way, which... feels more frustrating and annoying than intense and scary. Especially since the chaser seems to momentarily stop in their tracks while you are in the process of pushing a crate. It's hard to be invested when these crates move so damn slow. Now, there's a mandatory chase later in the game where you also need to push crates to get through it, but that one works a lot better, because you both have a massive head start (giving you incentive to get away before you even see the chaser) and the chaser is coming from the opposite direction to you.

The worst one introduces a concept never seen again after it's introduced. That is, hiding places. In practice, a monster appears and text on the screen tells you that you can hide from certain monsters in a marked hiding place, but selecting the wrong one will lead to game over. Well, you can only really run either left or right and both of them eventually end up in a dead end with a room where you can hide under a bed (the sole hiding place).

Well, if you run to the left and hide under the bed there, it's game over. If you run to the right and hide under the bed there, the monster inexplicably stop chasing you, even though it was literally 1 tile below you and possibly attacking you. The only difference between those two beds is that the one on the right side has blood on it, while the one on the left doesn't. Is that supposed to be a hint? And if yes, isn't it kinda backwards?

And even if you were to somehow indentify the bloodless bed as a deathtrap, seeing as you are in a dead end and probably low on HP from running to the several other dead ends with no hiding places, by the time you get there, you are most likely to die from the monster anyway, no matter what. It's literally a 50% chance of you picking the right path with no clues or context and that seems like a pretty bad way to do this, not to mention a bit pointless, since this concept doesn't show up again.

In general, I feel like the game is at its best when you aren't in any actual danger and just walk around freely or watch cutscenes or look at spooky space pictures of planets in our solar system (most notably, the spooky Moon). The chases are mostly fun, but this isn't a game you play because of great chase scenes. They seem to be there mostly for flavor, not as a main course. Now, there's one chase scene that is probably the best part of the whole game, but that's mostly due to its setup rather than the gameplay itself.

Now, there's one part that frustrated me. After leaving the town, you are suddenly transported to a nightmarish realm without warning for your first chase scene. Now, you have no way to know that this is going to happen. Saving is obviously disabled during the chase screne. And there's a lot of cutscenes, text and wandering around before this part. Meaning, if you didn't save at all and get a game over here, you have to replay all of that again. There are a number of chase scenes in the game and this is the only one that doesn't open the Save window before the chase to let you save right before the chase starts. And that's a real shame, since this is the one part where that would be needed the most. The player doesn't really need to be reminded to save much in the later parts, since in those parts, you have a clear and present danger and there's a natural inclination to save your progress. The same cannot be said when you are just wandering around town, talking to random NPCs. This almost made me quit.


Presentation

This is the game's strength. There's lots of pretty pictures to look at, the graphics are nice, with leaves blowing in the wind, rays of sunshine, light effects etc. There's also the many pixelated deaths of Beau if he runs out of HP after a monster attacks him and these animations actually vary based on the enemy that dealt the last blow. There's also a lot of neat little touches, like you actually seeing the screen of Beau's cell phone when he text's Susan.

Now, the most significant thing here is the addition of voice acting. Every line of dialogue in the game is voice acted, which is something very unusual for a short indie game made for a game jam. And how is it? Well, it's not dubbed by professional voice actors, so it's no surprise that it's pretty rough, but overall, I think they did a good enough job. Sure, the quality varies a bit based on each line and especially character. The psychologist that interviews the player is one of the best, Susan is decent, other NPCs vary from good to passable. Unfortunately, the main character was one I thought was one of the weaker performances. It's worst at the start, where he sounds a bit flat, though things improve a lot once the spooky stuff starts happening and Beau is required to show emotions. The very best voice acting goes to the creepy clown. Now, this is a scene that wouldn't work as well if this were conveyed just through text. It's easily the best moment in the entire game.


Story

Now, this is heavily subjective, but in my opinion, this is probably the weakest part of the game. That's not to say it's terrible, it's just... let's say, disappointing. Rather than having the semblance of a somewhat coherent plot, the game appears to be more of a string of random situations that are meant to evoke curiosity and set up a sense of mystery, only to move on without delving deeper and explaining anything.

I feel like the best example of this is a moment near the start of the game, where Beau inexplicably winds up back in Saturnalia town after he got transported to a nightmarish real where he got chased by a monster. Before that happened, it was still morning, but now, it's suddenly night. Then Susan shows up and tells him that it's always been night and that he arrived to the town at 7 PM, which Beau knows is false. He then shows her a "screenshot" of the text messages they sent to each other minutes before he arrived to Saturnalia.

Now, this doesn't really make sense, if he wanted to prove they were texting in the morning, why would he need a screenshot? Why not just show her the text messages on his phone? But whatever, the screenshot of the text message says it was sent around 7 PM, just like Susan said. Afterwards, Susan asks a surprisingly-reasonable question, that being "why did you take a screenshot of a random text message I sent you?" There's never an answer to that question, instead, they just decide to continue their date.

Now, this scene introduces several mysteries. Why is it suddenly night? Why does Susan say that Beau arrived at 7 PM, when the game started in the morning? Why does the text message say 7 PM, when it said 10 AM at the start of the game? Why did Beau decide to take a screenshot of a random text message, was it just some kind of meta joke? What could this all mean? None of those questions are ever really answered. Instead, it's dropped and off to the next mystery setpiece!

It reminds me of one of the the concepts in scriptwriting, the so-called Mystery Box. In short, there's a box and the natural human curiosity leads one to think "What's in the box? I need to find out!" The whole game feels like a mystery box after mystery box, yet you never really get to see what's inside the box, apart from another box. The game provides very few real answers for anything. And while it's possible to deduce some things from the plot, like the fact that
Beau is probably inside some computer simulation that puts him through several scenarios to possibly "improve his AI?" and at the end, he turns into an NPC (although none of this is directly stated in the game itself)
, but there's not really enough to satisfy the curiosity of the player, stoked by introducing one mystery after the other. That's not to mention that
if this really was the twist, it feels more like a cheap cop-out, similar to the dreaded "it was all a dream!" type of twist. It turns out that nothing really mattered. It also doesn't really answer any other events. Why did they have to happen the way they did?

Presumably because the programmers set them up that way. Why did they do that? Who knows, they were bored, I guess. It just raises more questions that will never get more answers. Not to mention never even dealing with mysteries that aren't explained just by the simulation thing, treating it as the be all, end all reveal, instead of diving deeper.
Overall, at certain times I questioned if even the developer had any answers to certain questions or those were there only to make the player think of their own explanations while the actual "mystery box" is empty. And that would be pretty disappointing.

Now, there's trusting players to be smart enough to understand the symbolism, then there's providing enough context so that the players don't wonder what the hell was the point in what you just went through. I don't feel like the game did that very well. There was way too much vagueness and ambiguity for me. Constantly repeated mantras like "there are no faces" makes me feel like that was sort of the point of the game. The game seems to have a heavy focus on your perception of things, how it can get messed up and makes you question what's real. Like how sometimes, you may focus on something so intently that you literally don't see anything else around it and thus miss the bigger picture (the best meaning I can come up with for the "there are no faces" mantra, unless it's meant as "those monsters that chase you literally have no faces").

I just feel like this is a game to be theorized about rather than enjoyed. I could be ok with that if there was more substance to it, but I don't feel like there was enough. When you take it in stride as an experience, it somewhat works, even with the disappointing ending. It's only when you dive deeper that you start to see the flaws.


Conclusion

So, what more to say about it? While I have been very critical of some aspects of the game, overall, it's a solid. This is one of those games you should really play yourself and draw you own conclusions about. It's also a game made in limited time for a game jam, so I'm willing to be a bit more forgiving towards its flaws. And thanks to its presentation and voice acting, this game get an additional half-a-star for its archievements. So, the final rating is 3.5 stars, hoping to see more games from this developer in the future!

Posts

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Hello Beregon and wow!! Thank you so much for this extremely detailed review! ^_^ :) I fully understand the critics that you found, as I myself actually wish I was able to convey the symbolisms more clearly and not too vague (though I did aim for some vagueness since the game jam's theme was "Cosmic Horror".), still, the plot could indeed use some clarity and not just seem like an endless mystery box as you have mentioned. xD

I'm really happy that you enjoyed the game for what it is, and I'm glad you liked the presentation! ^_^ :D

I honestly appreciate that you tried the best you could to analyze the plot, and see that it can indeed be theorized... But yeah, I wish I could make things less vague in the future. :)

I did put all the symbolisms in the game for a reason. :D And it would take me having to PM you the entire thing if you're eager to know. ;) But hopefully, if you know em, it wont take away from the mystery. ;) I assure you, its not supposed to be just a "It was all a dream" kinda take. xD As what I have come up making it goes into a rabbit hole. :D

Once again, thanks so much for the review, Beregon! I appreciate it!
author=Starmage
Hello Beregon and wow!! Thank you so much for this extremely detailed review! ^_^ :) I fully understand the critics that you found, as I myself actually wish I was able to convey the symbolisms more clearly and not too vague (though I did aim for some vagueness since the game jam's theme was "Cosmic Horror".), still, the plot could indeed use some clarity and not just seem like an endless mystery box as you have mentioned. xD

I'm really happy that you enjoyed the game for what it is, and I'm glad you liked the presentation! ^_^ :D

I honestly appreciate that you tried the best you could to analyze the plot, and see that it can indeed be theorized... But yeah, I wish I could make things less vague in the future. :)

I did put all the symbolisms in the game for a reason. :D And it would take me having to PM you the entire thing if you're eager to know. ;) But hopefully, if you know em, it wont take away from the mystery. ;) I assure you, its not supposed to be just a "It was all a dream" kinda take. xD As what I have come up making it goes into a rabbit hole. :D

Once again, thanks so much for the review, Beregon! I appreciate it!


Hello Starmage! From my review, it probably seems like I've enjoyed the story much less than I actually did. Honestly, it wasn't that bad. I didn't really think that it was all just random and the symbolism was pretty coherent, so I was pretty sure that it all means "something". It just wasn't clear enough what. I expected some kind of reveal, but the ending didn't really provide that. Which was a shame, since I was very interested about it and would like to know more.

As I said, it's subjective. I don't like too much vagueness in story and "open to interpretation" kind of games, largely bacause I've experienced numerous ones that did it very badly (yours was alright in comparison), so I'm just kinda tired of it.
And that is completely understandable, Beregon! ^_^ :D Which is why I honestly wish I could've added some more layer into the ending to at least provide some answers for the unanswered questions. :) And yeah haha! I know many people who may not be a fan of "open to interpretation" kind of games, and that's fine! ^^ Hopefully, I can mix a balance between them both on any future horror/mystery games that I make. :D

Once again, thank you so much for this review and for sharing your thoughts! I really appreciate it a lot! :D
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