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Review

Monochroma Review

  • Game release: May 28, 2014
  • Reviewed:
  • PC
Robert Handlery on Google+

Stuck in the dark.

by

The term "corporate overlord" is usually used in jest. We recognize how much power these inhuman entities have over us, but we've yet to reach the point where our waking hours are dictated by their whims. In Monochroma, we see a vision of a city in which this term has reached its terrifying potential. The fear of losing your freedom is palpable, communicated through the emptiness of the cityscape, the bleakness of the visual design, and the unceasing rain washing away any semblance of hope. It's unfortunate, then, that the plight of one boy striving to break free of this citywide prison--filled with puzzling barriers--is overshadowed by something as mundane as technical failings. Monochroma conjures frustration instead of empathy, undermining the intriguing premise set in the early going.

There are no words in Monochroma, no dialogue to explain what has happened to your home. Rather, the story is told through 2D imagery, so questions are left dangling in the air, and you must decide what caused such unrest. During the early hours, I scoured the backdrop looking for pieces to explain what had happened. There are robots stationed in people's homes. Though originally intended as consumer companions, they may have risen in revolt as robots so often do. But I found no such violence when I encountered one. So I could only wonder why the people had left, or if they had been killed by the corporation performing experiments in their factories. Who knows the answer? As the game progressed, my interest waned as supernatural elements were introduced. What was once a gripping allegory of our own society became a fantastical leap to something I couldn't relate to.

Monochroma's emotional weight should come from the relationship between the young protagonist and his helpless brother. You must carry your sibling on your back, braving the many obstacles that stand before you both as you search for freedom. Normally, such a partnership would have captured my heart, as evidenced by Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. But there's a logical problem here that only caused me to question what was going on. In the very beginning, you see your younger brother flying a kite, running freely through wheat fields. However, he ceases to use his legs after the first few minutes, which just made me wonder why he had become such a useless lug. Having to carry him adds to the puzzle dynamic, because your movement is restricted by his weight, and you can only put him down in spotlights, but that added consideration feels forced. Why couldn't he help me?

Monochroma conjures frustration instead of empathy, undermining the intriguing premise set in the early going.

I wasn't bothered by my brother's ineptitude at first. Nor was I hung up on the clumsy controls. Sure, climbing up boxes took longer than I expected, and I often had to retry jumps because my character wouldn't respond quickly enough, but I was so taken in by the enticing premise and stark visual design that such issues seemed minor. I even marveled at how clever certain situations were. Though I could only push boxes, pull switches, and perform a modest leap, the puzzles offered plenty of diversity, forcing me to take time to formulate a plan. Figuring out that I could quench the flame erupting from a barrel by pushing it into the rain gave me a satisfying "Eureka!" moment, as did clearing a difficult jump by catching a rope midswing. This was a world I wanted to exist in, and the action was good enough to warrant that investment.

The last time your brother will move on his own accord.

Things began to change as I got deeper into the adventure. The controls became such a hindrance that I would be stuck on puzzles long after I knew what to do, only because I couldn't get my character to respond. In one section, I had to push a box before the rising water swallowed me alive. The box had to be in an exact place or my character wouldn't be able to grab it, yet the finicky controls didn't allow for such precision. While the two boys were riding atop the box as the water rose, the box would shift awkwardly, defying expected physics, often tossing them into the deep without giving me a chance to react. In a maddening boss sequence, the collision detection was so off that I would die when his strike was far from my body. And the sluggish movement meant I couldn't accurately dodge his attacks even when they were blatantly telegraphed.

Even when you do coax your character to perform his rightful duties, Monochroma is never satisfying. Instead, you feel relief that you were allowed to move onward, knowing how tricky it would be to replicate your success. But shoddy controls aren't Monochroma's only issue. The game struggles to properly communicate what's going on. In one puzzle, I had to move a flaming barrel through a rain storm. It appeared that I had to use pallets moving along a conveyor belt as a roof, but I could clearly see rain falling across the entire screen--even beneath that shelter--so I had no idea if my plan was at fault or if it was my execution that was lacking.

The bleakness is all encompassing.

And then there are the small problems that ensure you're continually hounded throughout the journey. Monochroma has abrupt loading screens between sections that break the flow of the action, and has sound issues where music fails to play. Knowing how far you can safely fall is a crapshoot; I would often perish even when I plummeted only a modest distance. When you die, your character falls stiffly to the ground, in an almost comedic pratfall. Death is even sillier when it involves your brother. In one puzzle, I mistakenly dropped a barge on his head a dozen or so times, and there was no impact, no ceremony, so I never felt any sadness at what I had done. There were so many times that I groaned from annoyance or laughed from amusement that I couldn't stay invested in the boy's struggles. It's a shame how often Monochroma undermines its own strengths through technical problems.

Monochroma is a game that I wanted to enjoy, and I thought it would be worthwhile even halfway through the adventure. But things really go off the rails as you push onward, with most of the later puzzles demanding precision that's just not possible. Even though the artistic design is eye-catching, and the music deftly builds on the feeling of oppression, there are too many problems heaping frustration upon you. The youthful protagonist of Monochroma is incredibly brave and filled with awe-inspiring love and patience, but all of those good characteristics are overshadowed by his insane clumsiness and the problematic world he exists in.

The Good
Striking artistic design
Clever puzzles
The Bad
Clumsy controls
Loads of inconsistencies
Unfortunate emphasis on precision
4
Poor
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Tom adores puzzle platformers, and was intrigued by Monochroma after playing it at the Game Developers Conference. But he struggled to finish Monochroma even though it's only five hours long because of its many unavoidable problems.

Discussion

39 comments
sneewittchen
sneewittchen

It is nice to play a game that has a bit of different gameplay in it.  Not all the exact same.  I like the hacking ability.

grknbyzgl
grknbyzgl

I think this game has good graphic and good to play..

Skalponesis
Skalponesis

This game knows how to kill children...

push88
push88

Is this the same company that made Limbo?!

warriors30
warriors30

Hmm, maybe I'll get this because sometimes I find joy in playing bad video games. When you only play the good stuff you get spoiled. 

PS2fweak
PS2fweak

The title of the game and "art" style was enough to turn me off. Be more original, Nowhere Studios. Even your studio name sounds derivative. 

bumpies
bumpies

Looks like a limbo wannabe 

thermalmotion
thermalmotion

I believe in game iteration if there's a sense of progression or refinement. But Limbo looks better, sounds better, feels better, and came long before.

No doubt a lot of effort and love went into making this game, however it's just far too unoriginal and clumsy for it's own good.

Dradeeus
Dradeeus

Kinda digging that music, though.

Sushiglutton
Sushiglutton

What a shame, it looks fantastic. Like the visuals even more than Limbo's. But the negative points are exactly the kind of things that annoy me the most, so I'm out. Meh :(.

bunchanumbers
bunchanumbers

Man what a bummer. I had high hopes for this game. 

Daian
Daian

There's a problem with the comments, often times it just saying "pending" and never post.

prats93
prats93

PC gaming, ladies and gentlemen.

dannydopamine8
dannydopamine8

"You will still be fighting to get the darn boy to do what he is told, even simple things are incredibly aggravating, nothing feels right in monochroma, and i could never get over that disconnect" "there are so many times i groan in annoyance"


Is this secretly a review of dayz?

McGuirex3
McGuirex3

@warriors30 


Man you are sooooooooooo right in everything you said! I think most of these "pro"-reviewers are just board/not challenged anymore and really need to move on to something else! G Kasvin did it. If we think just playing video-games all day every day is fun, sure it is for a time but then...

Stevo_the_gamer
Stevo_the_gamer moderator moderator

@Daian Not a problem per se, but it's because your comment didn't pass the filter system. (Limit the profanity, fanboyism, and silly spinoff names of things (xbone, pony)). Keep your comments classy, and clean and there shouldn't be too much of an issue.

RedWave247
RedWave247

@prats93 Yeah, one bad game obviously means that EVERY PC game is bad. *rolls eyes* It's not like consoles have EVER had bad games, right?

jhonMalcovich
jhonMalcovich

@prats93 Still better than having no games to play XD

hystavito
hystavito

@Stevo_the_gamer I feel like you are understating how overly strict the filter is.  Or maybe you don't even know how strict it has become.

Look around the comments section lately and you'll see some ridiculous examples.  My own personal one I have been mentioning is bl0w.  I tried to comment on an article about Jonathan Bl0w and learned of that word being filtered.  Don't you think that's taking it too far?

Forcecaster
Forcecaster

@Stevo_the_gamer  Hohohoho, wait! When did the comment section started to limit those things? And what does it mean to be limited? If I write more than twice in a sentence either Sony or Microsoft it will be considered as a fanboy message?

chibistevo32
chibistevo32

@Stevo_the_gamer Profanity is more acceptable than stupidism, I don't see anyone moderating that.

keviac
keviac

@Stevo_the_gamer @fede018 Stevo i appreciate what your doing but the company your working for is starting to lose itself. A year ago game spot was in its prime. ITs beginning to let its own fans get to it and as a result changes are being made. Instead of letting the community speak.

Stevo_the_gamer
Stevo_the_gamer moderator moderator

@fede018 @Stevo_the_gamer It's not "my" filter system. I did not implement it, I merely keep the peace. If one feels he or she can't go about their day without acting unprofessional by using needless language, they will find ample websites out there that cater to that sort of mantra. 

Stevo_the_gamer
Stevo_the_gamer moderator moderator

@hystavito @Stevo_the_gamer Overt acceptable comments will be approved, so do not fret about the given scenario. Although I am not sure why that particular word by itself would be on the filter list, perhaps because it's part of compound phrase. I will investigate.

warriors30
warriors30

@hystavito @Stevo_the_gamer Exactly. We should be allowed to say "Wow, these graphics look mindbl0wing!" or "Meh, the gameplay doesn't bl0w me away.".

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@jeager_titan  Yea the filter is all kinds of messed up.  What's more bizarre is that the website went from no censorship at all, to seemingly random and innocuous words...

Monochroma More Info

First Release on May 28, 2014
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • + 3 more
  • PlayStation 4
  • Unix/Linux
  • Wii U
Monochroma is a cinematic puzzle platformed that takes place in an industrial-alchemic setting.
5
Average User RatingOut of 23 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Monochroma
Developed by:
Nowhere Studios
Published by:
Nowhere Studios, Merge Games
Genres:
Platformer, 2D, Action