Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Lucidity (XBLA)

"I'm not crying, It's just raining... on my face..."

It’s not often that a video game is designed to toy with your emotions. Mostly these days, they follow the adventures of a man with knuckles the size of his head, or female fetish models. Lucidty takes the road less travelled, being centred around a little girl named “Sofi”. Watched over by her grandmother as she falls to sleep, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well in her real life, and this becomes reflected in the dream world she inhabits.

By escaping to the dream world, the designers at LucasArts have created a scenario that, although the truth behind it is revealed to the player before the character, allows itself to unfurl slowly with an atmosphere like no other (with the possible exception of Braid). By simply framing the game in a simple three act structure (happiness, loss, acceptance), the game creates an emotional ambience that is told simply through the visuals and the breathtaking soundtrack.

The game consists of Sofi traversing the world continually from left to right, whilst the player acts as a guardian angel-esque figure, providing her with the tools to negotiate the world. These include ladders, fans, springs and catapults, which simply create ground for her to move on, or actually project her around in a fashion similar to Lemmings. It’s simple, occasionally frustrating, fun. Not in an exhilarating way, this is a game to relax to.

The main selling point of the game, however, is the art style which sits somewhere between a children’s book, The Snowman and a Studio Ghibli movie. Every level has it’s own unique look, gradually traversing a world from autumnal dreams to deep sea nightmares. This transition allows a great variety of visuals, brimming with originality, such as one stage entirely populated with broken umbrellas, mimicking leafless trees. Even when in the the early stages of the dream world, the contrasting use of idyllic paradise of the level with rusted, barbed wire as an environmental hazard is inspired.

Sofi herself is beautifully animated, which really helps the player engage with her survival, even when she walks off into oblivion for seemingly no reason. Perhaps, though, she really is the key to the successful emotional resonance of the game. Rather than the superhuman antics of the Master Chief, slaughtering wave after wave of monster, this is a defenceless character that you really feel like you need and want to help her.

Despite all of this praise, I couldn’t recommend Lucidity to everyone, but at only 800 Microsoft Points (around £6.50), I’d definitely suggest giving it a go. There will be some frustrated by the slow pace, others by the quirky whimsy that runs throughout, and others may even find it over sentimental. But video games are an art form in their infancy, mostly incapable of dealing with emotional content with any degree of success. Though some may find this title a little bit overly mawkish, games like this are an important step to being allowed in to the more respected ranks of art forms. And if nothing else, this was the first game that made me feel like I should phone my Nan. Not many games can say that.