Brilliant game mechanic in a beautiful surrealistic setting, but saddled with an overreaching story that fails to payoff

User Rating: 7.5 | Braid PC
From a technical point of view, anyone should be able to play this game on even the lowliest of laptops. While that normally would be a bad thing in terms of quality of presentation, it is not so in this case. Braid is a side scrolling game with graphics reminiscent of a surrealistic water painting. A beautiful and sometimes haunting instrumental score helps to elevate the presentation to high art.

There are few keys required to play Braid and no mouse support. You will use your arrow keys for movement (and a special ability later), the shift key for time manipulation, and the spacebar to jump. Deep within the menus is the ability to save, but it is not likely you will ever use this. As someone who typically has hundreds to thousands of save games, I can tell you that this is not a feature I found necessary.

For me to review this game I really need to break it into two parts. The first relates to the game mechanic while the second relates to the story.

From a game mechanic point of view, Braid is near brilliant. I have been playing PC games since the early 80's and I can say that Braid has captured a very unique style of play that while it combines ideas from a number of other games, offers the whole as something vastly different than what has been done before. This game is certainly unique. The game involves the solving of puzzles to get...well... puzzle pieces. At first look it appears as if the puzzles will be impossible to complete, however, thoughtful problem solving using your unique abilities and the surrounding world will yield very clever solutions. For the most part these are rewarding and while difficult they are not frustrating. That said, there are a few parts of the game (particularly at the end) that do involve a very frustrating dance of logic and key presses. Even knowing the answer will not be enough as you are reduced to try and retry with subtle changes. For me that part was not fun but thankfully only represented a small percentage of the experience. The game world is left fairly open so you can move on to other parts and return to a troubling puzzle later on if you choose.

From a story point of view (i.e. our raison d'etre) the entire affair is left open to a wide variety of interpretations. The story as it were is told through some passages from books and the game world itself (in presentation not dialog). From the start it presents a very simple fairy tale style of story, but it is also very clear from the music, setting, and even the style of writing, that there is a much larger underlying reality at play. So the game can be about uncovering what this reality is. Or, if you choose, the game can just be about playing the game. The problem I have is that the game does build on itself bringing the story in all of its obfuscated glory, towards something you expect as a conclusion. In the final world you are naturally built up for this pay off only to be asked to interpret the whole thing yourself. While I am fine with making my own judgments about what I am seeing, I cannot help but feel the conclusion (in the game sense) was the author deciding he couldn't write an appropriate ending and so decided to beg off hoping to look like a mad genius. Again artsy interpretation is fine, but after all the game play it simply felt like a big let down. Yes I get the varying interpretations on what one is seeing and experiencing and the different takes on reality, life, love, evil, horror, the beginning and the end. None of that is nearly as innovative as the game mechanic. I think the author missed the chance to go a little further and offer something more poignant. I know that would be difficult and could result in diminishing the scope of what the author is trying to portray. Having said that I will also say that nothing ventured nothing gained and too little, as was the case here, makes the story largely forgettable which is very unfortunate.

In the end I have to recommend this game to everyone. The unique style of gaming is worth the acid trip storyline. You can easily disassociate the two anyway.