Thirty Flights of Loving: One of the Least Reviewable Games of the Year

Thirty Flights of Loving exists wholly outside of the standards that are often used to define what makes a great game. That's part of why Carolyn Petit loves it.

Thirty Flights of Loving costs $4.99. You can pick up guns and ammo, but you don't shoot anything. Nor do you solve any puzzles. In fact, it doesn't require any skill whatsoever to complete, and it's entirely linear. The graphics, assessed technically, are laughable. And the game can be completed in under 15 minutes. Evaluated by traditional game evaluation standards, Thirty Flights of Loving sounds like a disaster. But it's one of the most surprising and memorable game experiences I've had this year.

German signs. Canadian beverages. Inscrutable expressions. A place for people without a nation to call home.

The unexpected is exciting. Often, we play a level or two of a game, and we know basically how the whole game is going to play out. Narrative twists like the big reveal in BioShock, and gameplay surprises like the final boss battle in Ms. Splosion Man, are memorable in part because they're so unexpected. In Thirty Flights of Loving, you never get sure footing. From one moment to the next, you're constantly facing the unexpected. Thirty Flights tells one of the most confidently told stories I've ever encountered in a game. Here, less isn't just more. It's everything. The pleasure of Thirty Flights emerges from the things left unshown, the connections that aren't made clear. In those ambiguous spaces, your brain has room to play. To infer. To speculate. To imagine.

In a broad sense, the experience of playing Thirty Flights of Loving reminded me of seeing Tomas Alfredson's film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. With Tinker Tailor, I wasn't able to put all the narrative pieces together on my first viewing, and after discussing the movie with people who are way more astute about film than I am, I came away with the impression that this is true for most viewers. But this isn't a flaw. On the contrary, it's part of what makes the film so remarkable. It trusts viewers to be capable of being invested in the characters and the moment-to-moment emotions even when the plot details are murky. And shouldn't a story about people who compartmentalize every aspect of their lives, keeping secrets from their lovers and closest friends, be reticent about laying out the details of its intricate story? It's all there. You just need to pay attention.

The pleasure of Thirty Flights emerges from the things left unshown… In those ambiguous spaces, your brain has room to play. To infer. To speculate. To imagine.

It may seem strange to compare a lengthy film to a 15-minute video game, but in this regard, the two are quite similar. Like Tinker Tailor, Thirty Flights of Loving gives you information to help you piece the picture together, but you need to be observant to pick up on all of it. There are no lengthy voice-overs, no dossiers to unlock with gobs of superfluous background information. It is a lean, mean piece of storytelling, and the method in which it communicates its tale is so unlike what most games employ that while playing it, I was exhilarated to be experiencing something wholly new.

The most unusual and powerful tool Thirty Flights of Loving uses to tell its story is the smash cut. Thirty Flights of Loving is, on its surface, about a trio of criminals planning to perform a risky vault heist. But although the gameplay is entirely linear, the way in which the events surrounding the heist are presented is not. At one moment, you are at Cugat Airfield, the planned heist seemingly having gone horribly wrong. You're surrounded by men and women hustling and bustling on their way, making unknown connections that will carry them to unknown destinations, while out the window, planes constantly vanish, bound for who knows where.

An orange can be deadly, if you mean it.

It's an alienating, transitional place, home to no one. But as you push your wounded comrade Borges--the safecracker, forger, and pilot of the group--down a hallway in a wheelchair, the speed and frenzy suddenly give way to something else entirely. You climb out of bed. It's a warm city night, the temperature suggested by an oscillating fan. (In this visually minimalistic world, details have the opportunity to take on greater significance.) Here, your other partner, Anita--demolitionist, mechanic, and sharpshooter--is lackadaisically eating oranges and throwing the peels out onto the balcony. You can partake, if you wish, and share a silent moment with her.

It's committed to not imposing a clear narrative or an easily digestible meaning on itself. It respects you too much.

The cut is disorienting. What is this place? How is this connected to the events at the airfield? Thirty Flights of Loving never makes its connections explicit, as it jumps from the airfield to other places and times, and then back again. It's on you to put the pieces together. But doing so is a pleasure, because there are moments of beauty that catch you off guard, and because the momentum of the story is so propulsive, driving you ever onward to its inevitable conclusion. The effect, ultimately, is like that of being at a moment of tremendous gravity and consequence in one's life, while memories of choices made in the past that led you to this moment intrude on the present.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could just linger forever in that one perfect moment, that moment when you held love in your arms and freedom seemed to stretch before you endlessly?

Alas, time waits for no one.

Fittingly, Thirty Flights of Loving ends in an art gallery. In galleries, pieces of art are typically presented as open to interpretation, with no meaning imposed on them other than what you take away. Thirty Flights of Loving is much the same. It's committed to not imposing a clear narrative or an easily digestible meaning on itself. It respects you too much. That's what makes it so exciting to me, and if you approach it with an open mind and an open heart, I think you'll find it quite remarkable, too.

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0 comments
Halloll
Halloll

Carolyn recommended super brothers: sword and sorcery before. got it and liked it. this is only 5$ so I'll give this a try.

lemoi
lemoi

Thanks so much Carolyn, I've put in on my Steam wishlist. It sounds most intriguing :)

dixienarco
dixienarco

thanks Carolyn, for making me discover this gem.

Rovelius
Rovelius

"emerges from the things left unshown, the connections that aren't made clear. In those ambiguous spaces, your brain has room to play. To infer. To speculate. To imagine."

 

And that's exactly why I much prefer retro games. We had room to make connections, empty spaces to fill

ilantis
ilantis

lol Carolyn likes the weirdest games. Anyway I tried to, but after  reading I didn't understand a thing about the game ... I mean , what do you actually do in this game ? But she seems very fond of it, so I guess I'll just give it a try and see it myself :P, I just hope I can download a demo somewhere and that I don't forget.

funkymonkey4710
funkymonkey4710

God I love when Carolyn reviews games! She has a narrative swag about her reviews that makes reading them a joy! Same with her video reviews which take the same narrative feel of her written ones, but interlaced with gameplay footage makes it a joy to watch. I honestly think Carolyn should get her own show on here where she breaks down the different aspects of what we like in games, hate in games, and what makes us think the way we think about games.

ziproy
ziproy

The way you describe the game makes it sound like that your TRYING to make a bad game sound good. But after you compared it to Tinker Tailor it all made complete sense.

 

I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't in a stable mindset the first time [thanks to that evil terrible drug that everyone in society uses ; ) ] and thought it was crap. Then I thought about it for awhile because deep down I knew I missed something. Soon I just HAD to watch the movie again and I am now under the opinion that it was one of the greatest movies I've ever seen for the same reason you love it and this weird game so much; because I actually had to pay attention to the movie and think about the clues it leaves.

 

I'm going to give this game a try now, and it is all thanks to you Carolyn and that is why you are a terrific journalist; because you compelled me to act.

Blackwand
Blackwand

I read the entire thing and yet I don't see anything about actual gameplay.  Is this a game or a movie?

moon24
moon24

Caro's reviews are the some of the best on Gamespot, in my humble opinion. Regardless of the scores, you get the impression that she is invested in playing games, and writing about playing games. It's more engrossing to read than most 'by the numbers' reviews some of which are so standardized that they cover graphics, gameplay, and replay without telling us how engaged they were (or weren't). :3

EliOli
EliOli

I don't think I'm going to be picking this one up.  Unusual does not necessarily mean good.  I appreciate Mr. Petit's review though.  He obviously put some thought into it.

Mehluv
Mehluv

This game is a spiritual successor to Gravity Bone, made by the same guy, and it's free, so you guys can check it out.

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

I really really really hate characters that have boxes for heads. That alone puts me off trying it.

the_requiem
the_requiem

Would appreciate if you could also add links on how to get this game. Reading this article I have no idea how to get this game. Is this XBLA? Steam? Where and how to get it? Indie games, more than others, could use direct links.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

$5 = 10 minutes?

 

Maybe I'll pick it up in a sale...

Lhomity
Lhomity

I have a feeling I saw Bajo and Hex review this on Good Game (TV show in Australia). Vague feeling, at least. I don't normally go for these sorts of titles, but this was a fantastic read, and I'm quite intrigued. I don't know when, but I'll try to check this out sometime soon. Thanks, Caro. =)

obsequies
obsequies

Carolyn please review more indies, you're fresh outlook is what the industry and gamers need

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

 @TylerVanderyt You mean the demonstration of Bernoulli's Principle? My write-up isn't intended to be a summary of the game. It's just meant to praise its approach to storytelling and to perhaps encourage more people to seek it out and experience it for themselves.

Renunciation
Renunciation

 @funkymonkey4710 That sounds like a good idea in theory, but I can't imagine it being very easy.   If it were that simple, every game designer could read the same "Game Bible" and they would all produce nothing but high-quality games.

 

It's a bit complicated.  We all appreciate great storylines, but we often whine when a game is too linear or has too many cut-scenes.  We hate failing repeatedly in games -- but we (or a vast majority of us, anyhow) absolutely love Dark (and/or Demon) Souls, where you die and die often.  We all like things such as great controls, good graphics, and great sound -- but a game can have all three of those things and still be awful because it's otherwise repeated button-smashing with a storyline you're embarrassed to be sitting in front of and has no real sense of difficulty or reward. 

 

For me, the closest I'll get to FPS games is using a bow in Skyrim or administering cranial lead therapy as John Marston.  I prefer RPGs, however -- which some people don't enjoy at all.  "Give me a firearm and some crosshairs, an' some people to kill -- that's all I care about," they say.

 

And, of course, there are games which are critically brilliant but fail to sell many copies.  Psychonauts would be a classic example.  It's great and all, but... who bought it and played it?

 

So, yeah.  To kind of dictate what we all like and hate in games would be a rather daunting task -- and it would likely generate quite a handful of comments from angry fanboys, trolls, and self-proclaimed experts.  What a reward!  But that's us -- the gaming community.  We have a lot of different opinions about games, and that's not always a bad thing.

IrrationalBeast
IrrationalBeast

 @moon24 you mean like her phoned in 9.5 Dark Souls score.  Crappy port that is neigh unplayable out of the box = GOTY?  Better than Borderlands 2, TL2, GW2, Dishonored, etc?  

 

She's a hack, people just defend her because she's different.  Just because she is a fake woman doesn't mean her reviews are automatically good and doesn't mean her Dark Scores review wasn't a total joke.

funguar
funguar

 @the_requiem exactly! considering the length of the article the amount of information lacking from this story is staggering. 

jeremyc99999
jeremyc99999

 @obsequies I second the notion. I like to see reviews of games that I might have otherwise missed.

TylerVanderyt
TylerVanderyt

 @carolynmichelle No no. After that.There are missions that you have to complete.I only played the first 2 so I don't know how many there are.But it seems theres much more game after the Bernoulli Principle 

_Roo_
_Roo_

 @Renunciation  @funkymonkey4710 Unfortunately you can say 'there is water in the ocean' and its likely to generate quite a handful of comments from angry fanboys, trolls, and self-proclaimed experts.  But well put.

ziproy
ziproy

No thanks are nessecary. It's always a pleasure giving credit where it is due :)

moon24
moon24

 @IrrationalBeast  I wouldn't care if reviews were being written by a one legged, one armed, androgynous alien from the planet Buttmunch. I'm more concerned with the content. Her reviews are more pensive though and I'd read them on a taken-for-granted basis that they are good to read. I also think you're being irrational on the whole 'different' aspect. :3

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

 @IrrationalBeast  Dark Souls on PC is nigh unplayable out of the box? That wasn't my experience at all. I installed it and seamlessly got to play what I consider to be the best game of the past few years. I encountered no buggy enemy behavior, no hard crashes, no technical problems that interfered with my ability to enjoy Dark Souls or kept it from being an incredible experience. And yes, I do think that, as great as Borderlands 2, Guild Wars 2, Dishonored and the rest are (and they are great), Dark Souls is better. You're free to disagree with me on that point, but I stand by that.

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

 @TylerVanderyt I think perhaps you're referring to Gravity Bone, a prior game that comes included with 30 Flights of Loving and that is also, in my opinion, very cool.

Summercontest
Summercontest

 @carolynmichelle  @IrrationalBeast Carolyn really is one of the best, most informative reviewers out there and I can't state how much I respect her for brushing off all of the ignorance she encounters on a daily basis.

pinching_perry
pinching_perry

 @IrrationalBeast  @moon24It's like comparing apples to oranges. Apple A is better than apple B, I would give apple A a 9.5 on the scale of apples, but that doesn't equate to this apple tasting better than that orange which is rated a 9 on the scale of Oranges.

EliOli
EliOli

 @twc353  @Magpie72  @WizardGlass  @Renunciation  @funkymonkey4710  @IrrationalBeast  @joeKangaroo  @carolynmichelle

Hi guys

 

It never ceases to amaze me how some people will automatically label people as bigots simply for having a different point of view than their's.  The very act of negatively labeling people they don't know is an act of bigotry in itself.  I'm not going to play this game though. 

 

As I said before, a public forum is not the place for this discussion.  Out of respect for those involved I will respond to the above post in private.  Anyone that wishes to send me a private message is welcome to do so.  I'm not going to respond in this thread anymore.

 

Take care

twc353
twc353

 @Magpie72  @WizardGlass  @Renunciation  @EliOli  @funkymonkey4710  @IrrationalBeast  @joeKangaroo  @carolynmichelle It is not a matter of "honesty" or "lying." What Caro is doing is incredibly honest. She is saying that the normal constructs of our society do not fit her and that she want to live as she feels fits her. The point that keeps getting made is that because one has male "parts," one must therefore live as a male. Anything else would be "lying" or "what they want to hear." The fact is that this is socially not biologically constructed. It is our society that says that someone with male hardware must run male software. Caro is honest and brave by saying no to the paradigm. She knows within herself that her software is different from her hardware and has chosen to live openly into that. It does not get more honest than that. 

 

There is a larger point here as well. In gaming, all of this should not matter. We are all avatars and screen names, handles and Miis. It should not matter where we are from just how many frags we score or that we are all in the same raiding party. On the other hand, there is this dark side of gaming - sexual harassment on Xbox Live, racial slur yelled into the microphone, bigoted comments at the bottom of a game review. It is all disrespectful and a dark mark hanging over gaming culture. Some of the above comments are bigotry disguised as "science" and "truth." It needs to stop. If you hold those beliefs, know that I fervently disagree, but also know that their expression do not belong in the public forum. I understand that you have the right to say them, but what you say matters deeply and can have a profound effect on another. 

Renunciation
Renunciation

 @EliOli  @funkymonkey4710  @WizardGlass  @IrrationalBeast  @joeKangaroo  @twc353  @carolynmichelle It's an issue of respect, not political correctness.  Respect dictates that you call someone what they ask to be called.  I find doing so useful in preventing such debates as you have witnessed; you may find similar results in the future.

 

I don't like political correctness at all, either.  Many times, "politically correct" phrases are more offensive to me than what they try to cover up -- but the motivation for doing so bears significant weight.  If the speaker or writer's intent is to directly discuss a particular topic, addressing someone by giving them an identity they reject is adding an unnecessary diversion from the subject at hand.

EliOli
EliOli

 @funkymonkey4710  @WizardGlass  @IrrationalBeast  @joeKangaroo @twc353 @carolynmichelle

Hi guys,

 

I made a comment on a review here and used the pro-nouns that fit; nothing more.  While I can appreciate defending another human being, I don't think the politically correct strategy of bending reality really helps a person.  I have a lot of sympathy for anyone that has gone through painful periods in their life.  I have had those times myself and know how it feels. 

 

I know and appreciate when people are honest with me and not just telling me what they think I might want to hear.  When I talk to people I try and be honest myself.  So I do apologize if I offended the politically correct crowd, but I'm, not going down that route myself.

 

In the same manner, I don't think it's right to make hurtful comments about a person or discuss their sensitive personal matters in a public forum.  Had I known my simple comment would cause this debate, I would have kept it to myself.

twc353
twc353

 @WizardGlass  @IrrationalBeast  @joeKangaroo  @EliOli Why do you get to decided that - what standard she chooses to base her gender on? While it is true that reproductive function is genetically determined, one's perception and understanding of who they are is not. What you are confusing is sex (a biologically determined function) and gender (a personally and culturally defined construct). In choosing to live as a women, she feels that her biology does not define her self-perception. We all do this. We all define for ourselves how to express our gender and our gender roles. I am a man, but I hate most competitive sports. For me, I still feel that the masculine construct fits me but the masculine construct as I define it. This is a long way of saying that in calling Caro a "he," you are confusing two separate things that are not necessarily linked.