Review: NaissanceE Is A Minimalist Architect’s Mad Playground
Alternating between haunting minimalist beauty and brutally frustrating at times, NaissanceE is a challenging but rewarding exploration experience.
- Worth The Time?Yes, but be prepared to sink time into the platforming sections, which can take time to pass.
- Things LovedThe atmosphere is lonely, the visuals striking, and I loved the occasional jaw-dropping, unexpected set-pieces in the later sections.
- Things HatedThe lack of a quick save, the checkpoints occasionally are quite far away from the actual death-zone of a section requiring me to descend the same three flights of stairs repeatedly.
- RecommendationPlatform-lovers, patient gamers, and those who enjoy art-house games will enjoy it.
- Name: NaissanceE
- Genre: Exploration, Platform-Puzzler
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: Limasse Five
- Publisher: Limasse Five
- Price: $19.99
- Reviewed On: PC
Minimalist architecture, geometry, and a haunting, electronic soundtrack combine in NaissanceE to make a game that heads off into somewhat uncharted territory. Not a typical platformer, with puzzles that sometimes don’t appear to be puzzles until you’ve completed them, it is a game primarily about exploration. It feeds off two basic urges: not to get caught in the dark, which makes you sprint towards light sources, and to see new things. It is the fear of the dark, and wanderlust, rolled into a first-person experience.
As that intro should tip you off to, NaissanceE is an artsy game. There are no enemies to fight. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much that’s alive. Unless you count the giant blocky slug-like things, which don’t really react much to your presence.
Much like it’s forebear, Portal, the game places you in the first-person shoes of a woman (called Lucy in NaissanceE), who says nothing, and has little to interact with. However, there’s no sarcastic or intimidating AI here. The only sound apart from the soundtrack and your footfalls is Lucy’s breathing. Naturally, if you are a gamer who needs lots of things to kill and loot to take, this game will feel a little dry. Expecting lots of things to kill is really missing the point, however; NaissanceE is about awe and the joy of exploration – the Alice-in-Wonderland effect of being in a new and mysterious environment, with only the sound of your breathing for company.
The breathing is actually an interesting game mechanic. You need to keep Lucy’s breathing regular as she sprints down endless corridors, or up seemingly infinite flights of stairs. If you don’t the screen begins to white out as she looses breath. And while most of the time you can just stop to catch it again, in some of the platforming sections you need to focus on both breathing, and jumping correctly, and not falling to your death (again). This extra layer of focus actually becomes a real challenge in some of the sections.
However, the falling-to-your-death routine that is so standard with platformers can get frustrating. The developers said that in some sections they wanted to create “a homage to old school die and retry games”, which is an interesting dynamic, but can become extremely frustrating. Sometimes the checkpoint can be quite a way back along a difficult section. In fact, a notable few checkpoints are actually located up three or four pointless flights of stairs above the part that kills you, making you descend the same damn section repeatedly until you make it past the obligatory platforming challenges of wind-tunnels, spinning things, retracting platforms. Worse than this, however, was the fact that I got caught by a bug, unable to move as I was sandwiched by a floating block, and needed to restart from previous save. Which was a good ten minutes of playback. However, these problems were not excessively intrusive. All that they did was make me take a break to cool off, and come back later to try again.
The great strength of the game is in its atmosphere. I haven’t felt a sense of mystery and anxious uncertainty in a game since the original Portal’s later sections, once you’ve twigged that something sinister is happening. The game plays with light and dark as puzzle mechanics a lot, but often just strands you in fields of pitch darkness or blinding light, creating moments of terrifying sensory deprivation that can have you spinning your mouse around looking for something, anything, to break the visual silence. This, coupled with the strange architecture that brings a combination of Blade Runner-like cityscapes, classical Greek temples, and space stations to create a strange world that refuses to help you answer the question “Where am I?”
Without spoiling anything, I can promise that my favourite sections game later on in the game, at which point I was suddenly hooked by a game that, until then, had been not-quite-fun but interesting nonetheless. There are unexpected moments of beauty as the world seems to guide you along towards some endpoint hinted at by the title. More than that, in some of the stranger sections, especially chapter 4 (approximately the midpoint of the game), there is a radical shift in the game’s tone as it experiments with near-metatextual moments. This really raised the game in my estimation, and pushed me to finish it as soon as possible. Add to that a few really well-placed little references, some quite well hidden as rewards for exploration, and you have a game that is truly intriguing,