Review: The Grandfather

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I’m not the kind of person that’s going to debate whether or not something is art. To me art is simply human expression, which leaves the door open for just about anything to qualify for interpretation and criticism. That’s not to say I’m going to be kind to a blank canvas with a dot on it or fifteen minutes of metal scraping; I acknowledge these works as art but I judge them to be poor examples of it. And that brings us to The Grandfather, a game desperately trying to be art while failing to provide the most essential element, a message worth gleaning.

The moment you start the game, you a treated to a drawing of a sad, naked old man on a toilet while an angry old lady head is yelling at him. A low-fi narrator explains that he is a very sad old man because his wife is mean to him. From here the game proceeds into a loop of several scenes, including a slow zoom into the top window of the house, a first-person march down a rough tunnel, and a scene somewhere within the house where you control the old man’s floating head. This sequence repeats four or five times, revealing more of what story there is with each cycle.

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There are only two parts of the game where you have any input on what happens. One is in the tunnel, where you navigate with first-person controls. All you can do is walk straight ahead, though. You can’t turn more than 90 degrees either direction and the tunnel has no branches or paths other than forward. At the end you find some gruesome piece of viscera which takes you to the other playable part, a room in the house. Here you maneuver the old man’s head around like the cursor in a point-and-click adventure, clicking on things and sometimes clicking and holding to pick them up.

This is the most significant part of The Grandfather from a gameplay perspective, so it is essential for you to understand that what passes for puzzles here are both completely linear and completely nonsensical. For example, in the bathroom scene you have to click on the sink, toilet, and bathtub to make them overflow. This fills the room halfway up with water. Then you grab the floating plunger and touch it to the drain at the bottom of the room. This makes the water drain out, and then more water explodes from the drain like a geyser. That’s it. That’s how you solve the bathroom puzzle.

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Is there any indication this is what you’re supposed to do? No. Is there any clue or mention in the cutscenes of these washroom shenanigans? Nope. Does flooding the bathroom tie into the story or symbolism in any way? Not as I see it. There’s a rough disconnect between what you do in the tunnel and rooms and what happens in the story, rough enough that I can’t even come up with charitable interpretations of your actions as a player that reflect on the tale of neglect and violence peddled around them. I honestly don’t see much of a story here at all. There are things that happen that COULD have implications about aging relationships and depression, but they’re never expanded or explained in any meaningful way, leaving barely enough to scrape together for a 101-level essay on symbolism.

It’s a sorry waste of a skin-crawling aesthetic to be sure, but too much of it relies on gore and disgust for my tastes. I’m reminded of the more depraved animated shorts MTV used to run in their early animation days, the ones that felt like portals into the diseased psyches of madmen. The problem is that here, there’s no neurosis to diagnose or combat. The Grandfather is very conspicuously a hollow shell, a gruesome wrapper that someone forgot to fill with the promised nightmare. Clocking in at less than 30 minutes, you’re welcome to see for yourself if edgy, experimental titles are your jam but I can’t say it’ll be 30 minutes well-spent.

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