GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.
Give Glitchspace a little time to grow on you. Loading up this puzzler for the first time is a mystifying experience to say the least, for reasons beyond the obvious. Developer Space Budgie has included absolutely nothing in the way of tutorials or guidance to help you figure out the interface. That's a big problem, because this early access game currently available via Steam is one of the more unique games you will encounter this year, an initially aggravating but eventually engaging mix of an experimental first-person game like Portal and visual programming.
Space Budgie calls Glitchspace a "first-person programming game," and that description does the game justice. You play as a nameless explorer wandering through a dreamy cyberspace world beset by random glitches that make it impossible to move from point A to point B. Reprogramming the environment as you go is the only way to get around falling off the edge of the world into oblivion. The game environment is made up of stable white blocks and unstable, "glitching" red ones that can be edited via the use of a visual programming language called Null, which allows you to manipulate these red blocks in just about any way you can imagine. You can shrink them, extend them, rotate them, make them immaterial, make them solid, turn them into bouncy platforms, and even create them out of nothing. So you're both programmer and player at the same time.
The 11 levels included in the current (alpha 1.4) build of the game throw out devious pitfalls that require serious thinking to get past. You generally run into chasms that cannot be crossed without twisting or turning a red block in such a fashion that you can use it as the next platform. Visual programming consists of a simple system. Everything is handled by dragging and dropping various commands, which are illustrated in little boxes adorned with plug-ins that allow you to connect commands into linked programming strings. Some blocks are decrypted, so you just right-click to bring up partially locked programming options, which are easier to figure out because you have already been given some of the puzzle pieces. Others are encrypted, which forces you to hit the E key to bring up a fuller list of options and then do pretty much everything from scratch before blasting the changes into existence with your shooter-style programming gun.
This early access game currently available via Steam is one of the more unique games you will encounter this year.
Either way, the goal is to create a logical programming string that makes a block dance to your commands. Some strings are simple, with just a few conditions. Others are more convoluted, with a dozen or more different conditions involving all manner of programming lingo: setting true or false and negative or positive, turning collision detection on or off, selecting a vector, scaling objects, applying force to objects, and so on. It doesn't necessarily help to have any programming experience, but it sure doesn't hurt, especially when you move beyond the two or three hours of the straightforward story levels into the much more grueling and open-ended sandbox mode of play.
Glitchspace is ingenious. Levels begin with basic maneuvers that require just a couple of manipulations to raise up a block or extend it toward you, but gradually progress to much more difficult situations where you need to play with a series of blocks, use one to trigger the action of another, and so forth. Thinking is paramount. The game features a relaxed atmosphere that is almost meditative in the way that it encourages you to focus. Elevator mood music and quasi-psychedelic visuals encourage a Zen approach to everything, too. You're supposed to be inside a computer, but it feels more like you're on some kind of high-tech acid trip. This place is a long way from Tron.
That said, Glitchspace is far too unwelcoming at the outset. The game comes with no tutorial or even any sort of documentation, so you're on your own when it comes to learning how to program. Without the assistance of a YouTube video, you may not have a clue as to how to manipulate the interface controlling the various programming options. The developers need to provide more information to players before the final game is released. Right now, programming is too bewildering in the beginning.
Once you get the hang of the visual programming mechanics, Glitchspace soon becomes a mesmerizing experience. The game is also remarkably stable and full-featured for an alpha build costing just $6.99 at present, providing you with many hours of play in the campaign levels and the more hardcore sandbox option. If some of the issues around accessibility are addressed through the addition of a tutorial, or even a quickie video illustrating basic programming concepts, Glitchspace could become one of the more inventive puzzle games to arrive on the PC in some time.
The 1.4 alpha build reviewed here features 11 levels offering two or three hours of gameplay, along with a complex sandbox mode that can occupy many more hours of your life.
What's to Come?
While the developers aren't clear about what additional content will be added to the final game, expect new levels and some fine-tuning of the existing puzzles.
What Does it Cost?
$6.99, available via Steam.
When Will it Be Finished?
No final release date has been announced at present. The game is largely bug-free, and all of the features seem to be in place, though, however.
What's the Verdict?
If you're up for something unique and innovative, the game is well worth the $6.99 asking price, even in alpha.