Review: Monochroma

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Let me be clear, I have no problem with games that borrow the style of others, provided they bring something new to the table. Let me also be clear, for anyone reading this review in the far-flung year 2019 and beyond, that I’m not talking about INSIDE because Monochroma predates it by two years. But I am talking about LIMBO, from which this game lifts a great deal of crates and elevators and levers and switches. I think there was an attempt to make this one more than a re-hash of the same concepts, which normally I would be fine with, except they seemed to have fouled up many of the parts they added, and even a few that they borrowed.

mono1

You and your young brother seem to be getting by just fine on an abandoned farm, until the little one strays too far and gets the attention of an unseemly fellow with a collection of similar children. Forced to run, the two of you cross the wide-open plains and tunnels and city sprawl of a retro dystopia dominated by strange robots and their omnipresent company of origin. Your path only takes you deeper down the rotten rabbit hole, revealing the link between the kidnapped children and legions of robots, as well as the awful head of the whole affair. If you can keep your brother safe and stay one step ahead of the muscled brute on your tail, there may just be hope for the two of you yet.

What you get from that setup is a game that plays very much like LIMBO with a few complications and a more apparent plot. As a side-scroller you can run, jump, push, pull, and swing to make your way past the many obstacles in your long path. Most of these obstacles will be ones you’ve seen before, like weighing down a teetering platform to reach a higher one, positioning elevators to reach a higher one, and moving crates or carts around to reach a higher one. Don’t expect the variety you’ve seen in LIMBO, or the challenge, for that matter. Through my entire journey I think there were exactly two puzzles I didn’t figure out right away, and one was because the gray ladder I needed blended into the gray wall it was affixed to.

mono2

The complications come in the form of your brother, whom you’ll have to carry through the majority of the game. You can do everything you normally do while carrying him, except jump as high, so many of the puzzles in the game are designed with key ladders or ledges juuuuuuuuust out of reach. Your brother will only consent to be put down in pools of light as well, and wouldn’t you know it almost every single one of those is in a perilous spot. Seriously, there are puzzles where the only light to place him in is in front of a mine cart you have to pop the brakes on, under a shipping container you have to lower, and in a sewer where he will happily be washed away to his death. My favorite, though, is a puzzle where you have to start a giant engine and the only light is on the engine belt itself, cast from light on the teeth that thread through deadly gears. Your idiot brother won’t sit on a gloomy catwalk, oh no, he absolutely INSISTS on parking on an engine belt being fed into a grinding machine.

If I sound upset, it’s because I’m having trouble thinking of a game with more contrived, nonsensical puzzles. The developers couldn’t come up with challenges half as clever as LIMBO, so they gave you a lemming of a little brother to feed into danger. Aside from one cool chase scene on a series of car elevators, there are no puzzles in the game that even BEGIN to make you feel clever for solving them. There’s an air duct maze in this, for Pete’s sake! The developers also couldn’t polish this one to any point past functional, meaning none of the animations match up with the model collisions and you’ll be teleporting off of ledges and sticking to ladders constantly. Another favorite of mine is how your hanging animation for horizontal ropes is always perfectly level, leaving your hands forever floating above curved ropes.

mono3

I’ll give Monochroma a few points for its art style, dusky black-and-white except for occasional red objects (and a fairly silly late-game reveal), and some of the environments are neat if a little nonsensical. In the three hours it’ll take to beat this one, you’ll go from farms and refineries to crowded streets and a hilariously out-of-place cyber-lab, before ending the game on an opulent airship. On that note, the story reveals just get dumber and dumber as you go, so even if the gameplay was up to snuff it wouldn’t be leading you anywhere worthwhile. But it’s not, so there’s really nothing lost by skipping this one and sticking to LIMBO, INSIDE, and the host of better games they inspired.

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