I’ve been playing it for years and am no-where near close to the end. I’ve had to restart from the beginning about eight times. I can only play it infrequently – a few hours at a time – because it’s probably the most incredibly disturbing game I’ve ever played.
But it is absolutely fantastic, and I’m about to start playing it again…
It’s aptly named ‘The Void’, and you play as a lost soul lingering in a purgatorial afterlife. When you first fire up the game you’re introduced to the mechanics and told to fetch Colour (will explain later) for the first character you meet – a Sister (again, later). So you run around collecting Colour and when you have enough you gift it to the Sister – she says she wants more – so you run around again to find more…
But even at this early stage in the game it gets difficult. You’re forced to move into the wider world to gather all the wisps of Colour you can find, but when you leave the initial chamber you become weaker; the Colour placed in your heart begins to drain, and the wisps you collect from the other chambers hardly seems enough to keep you afloat – let alone feed a hungry Sister…
That’s when it hits you – you’re f**ked. You are pretty much f**ked from the start, and it doesn’t get easier. You realise that this isn’t going to be one of those games where you start off as some weasel-ly kid with small arms but grow into a butch man with mammoth pecks. No, you’re going to be living off scraps for however long you can survive, and if you take one step out of place you’ll feel it – right down there in the pit of your Colourless stomach. This is where that unease comes in, and why I can never play the game for long periods of time. I begin to feel stressed, tested, challenged to the extent that part of me almost wants to give in. Every few hours I put in, I have to have a week or so of rest.
This is far from a criticism of the game. Some will say ‘wait, aren’t games meant to be fun?’ Yeah, most games are a form of entertainment, but there are games out there that are trying to do some very clever things, trying to be something entirely different, that are trying to make you feel something. This is a feel game – an experimental game, I guess. But back to the game…
It’s not just this hunger/thirst element that makes the game so stressful, the environment itself is so barren – so lifeless – and so stationary. It’s like being trapped in a black and white picture; nothing seems to move, and its decaying around the edges. Grey trees twist up from the grey earth, mountains slice into the air with sharp, grey, edges, and any remaining structures are often parked at obscure angles – leaning over you in crooked arcs, pushing up under your feet as jarring triangles – all smooth and grey as concrete. The inhabitants are grey, hopping/floating beings resembling swollen glands that snarl and growl as you pass by, making the occasional leap at you if you get too close.
The whole thing is as horrific as it is beautiful. Often, the landscapes are walled on all sides by vast mountains or drops that exacerbate an already pertinent feeling of claustrophobia – but if you look up to the sky you find this great space; the wishy-washy mist and occasional starry sky, a space which you can never inhabit – which only adds to a sense that you are so small. So useless.
Finally you’ve got enough to feed to the Sister, so you go back and give her all the Colour you can and she gives you another heart – something else to store colour in – so you have more life. Then it gets weird. The Brothers appear – huge, fierce, tortured beasts that barely resemble men – and they have a go at you, telling you that you shouldn’t be feeding the Sisters, and that you need to go through a number of tests before you become one of them. The Sister back them up – says she’s sorry – says that she’s been asking too much of you.
The game breeds cynicism – everyone seems to be lying to you – one Sister says don’t feed me whilst the others are more than welcoming, the Brothers bicker and argue with each other; start stealing the Colour you’ve stored in gardens, try to have a go at you if you fall out of line, and they generally don’t seem the sort that you want to like and yet, the games telling you to like them – to be like them. It’s lying at you all the time, and it won’t back down; you have to choose what you believe, who you face up against, and who you trust.
Has a game ever lied to you so openly? The Void doesn’t pull back – at one point a Brother explains that to pass his test you have to let all the Colour drain from your body – a nice way of saying ‘to pass you must die’. Lovely. You can choose to do it of course but then the game ends, so you have to choose to stay alive, and then you get punished for it. There was another instance where I had been tasked with cleaning a few chambers of small enemies, so I ran in there Colour blazing and killed them all – the Sister was pleased – but not long after a Brother showed up and had a go at me, told me I was destroying the environment, that using Colour in such a way was taboo. I didn’t believe him and kept firing away at everything I could see – then the monsters started getting bigger, then there were more of them, then I started running out of colour, then the colours started whispering to me – telling me I was dying. They had been right all along – I hadn’t been thinking straight – I’d chosen the wrong path and now a number of chambers were full of beasts swelling with Colour. I’d been lied to again.
So I’ve talked about Brother, Sisters and Colour and unless you’ve played the game you’re probably sitting there scratching your head, confused as anything right now. Let me try to give you a sense of what’s happening…
The afterlife/purgatory world is dying, and only Colour can bring it back. Colour is the life-force of this world and there’s hardly any of it left, what is left is usually snatched up by the Brothers. The Brothers are souls that have wandered up from the colourless area below the void (death, essentially) and are each paired off with a Sister who they ‘care’ for. Everyone needs Colour to survive in the afterlife/purgatory, and if you run out of Colour you’ll end up in this area under the void, and the game will end.
You put Colour into your body – into hearts – and as you spend time in the the void this Colour drains. The more time spent in the void, the more Colour passes through your heart, but Colour can also be used to interact with objects. As Colour passes through your heart(s) it becomes useable, the Colour you pick up from the environment is, at first, only edible – once consumed (and after spending time in the void) it becomes useable.
You can attack things with Colour, you can draw runes which enable all sorts of abilities with Colour, and you can infuse natural items like tree’s and bushes with Colour in order to store it for later use. There are other ways of storing Colour, and getting additional Colour such as mining and singing – but talking about these would spoil the game somewhat.
Sisters are sheltered characters who inhabit certain zones of the void – they know the most about the void and will teach you about the environment you find yourself in. They lust for Colour, each of them wants different Colours, and the more colour you give them the more zones become available for use.
It becomes very diplomatic. The Brothers don’t like it when you feed their Sisters, the Sisters feel bad taking Colour from you but feel like they need it, and you need Colour in order to survive, and then occasionally a Brother will try to attack your garden of Colour whilst you’re miles away and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s very intense – incredibly so – and it takes a lot of time to get used to the game’s environment. So, for example, each Colour means something – green is, for instance, a defensive colour, so if you are full of green when something attacks you you’ll loose far less Colour, blue makes you move faster – so you’ll spend less time in the spaces between the chambers, therefore losing less colour from your hearts.
It is an amazingly ambitious title that completely re-thinks the way we approach games. It’s hard, its intense, its stressful, and its oppressive – so so oppressive, but I love it – I absolutely love it.