Grand Theft Auto Vice City is one of the best games of all time. Better than San Andreas for sure (shut up yes it is). But do you know what was a fair minus point on both of these epics of yester-yester-gen? Escort missions. Gently babysitting some useless meatsack from one place to another detracts from nearly every game this aggravating mechanic surfaces in. Monochroma’s attempt to make this kind of gameplay the core mechanic of its title seems like a brave move and gave a ray of hope that Nowhere Studios would bring along some fresh ideas to inject some empathy in to players, making a tale in which a helpless NPC is reliant on you throughout an enjoyable experience.
The helpless blighter in question is apparently your brother. This is made obvious by the prompt to “pick up brother” when you get close to the useless little twerp. If you’re not noticing any of the previously mentioned empathy pouring from the early stages of this review, it’s because Monochroma fails to even attempt to whip up some emotional development here. The game starts and he’s running off with his kite, but by the time you have noticed the prompts to move your own character and have run an entire one frame to catch up with him, he’s planted his arse on the floor. There he shall remain for eternity, unless you scoop him up and move him about.
So where are you going? Why are you running away from home? Why is your brother suddenly incapable of walking? That’s a big old shrug on all three counts from Nowhere Studios. The atmosphere is bleak, moody and dark, but not in the same charming way as Limbo. There’s no music to speak of, but this doesn’t ramp up the tension like in Demon’s Souls because there’s nothing else too interesting happening. Unlike Brothers: A Tale of two Sons, Monochroma’s younger sibling serves to slow and encumber your character at literally every obstacle. With the recent kerfuffle about there being too many indie games in the world, Monochroma’s inability to differentiate or go one up on comparable titles hurts it badly.
The puzzle elements show promise and if you can get around the slightly-south-of-smooth controls, working them out can be a bit of fun. The fact that you can only put your lazy little leech of a brother down in lit-up areas presents some interesting moments, although it nowhere near makes up for the fact that every single move you make seems to be animated at half speed when you are carrying him around, which you will be doing for most of the game. As things move on, the puzzles require a bit more finesse and it’s frustrating to realise that the slightly-off controls are the main thing presenting a challenge as you progress further in to the game.
That progression brings up some weird moments and super-natural type themes crop up for no apparent reason. As the game has failed to really invoke any kind of emotion, story or characterisation from the beginning, this might pique your interest a bit. Try not to get too excited, as it seems to be another dead end that gets no explanation or development whatsoever.
The game is billed as a “cinematic puzzle platformer” on its Kickstarter page, where $84,000 was raised of the $80,000 goal. What exactly those cinematic elements are, I just can’t tell you. If it’s the fact that the only colour available in this dreary black and white world is a deep red, then consider it the final characteristic Monochroma borrows without improving on.
If you like the idea of a black and white world punctuated by a single colour that adds emotional gravitas, Stick on Schindler’s List. If you want to play in an oppressively dark and spooky world, play Limbo. If you want to explore the bonds of brotherhood and experience fun co-dependent gameplay, pick up Brother: Tale of Two Sons. Once you’ve done all of the above, if you find yourself wanting more, only then should you consider playing Monochroma. But with a bit of looking around you can probably find all these elements pulled off with more imagination, more polish and most importantly, more fun in one of the hundreds of independently developed games on the market right now. It’s tough to make an impression on a saturated market, but unfortunately the lasting impression here is that as the scope of available games widens, the quality of what’s out there is starting to take a dip.