Monochroma: review

  • Format: PC 
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Nowhere Studios
  • Developer: Nowhere Studios
  • Players: 1
  • Site:

Monochroma is interesting on paper: A game inspired by the developer’s real life events and the Gezi Protests, it sets out to make a very personal statement. It’s a shame that it’s such a violently unpleasant mess to actually play, then.

Monochroma is ostensibly a puzzle platformer, though it would be a huge stretch to describe any of the tasks the player has to carry out as a puzzle. These include moving boxes on to platforms to manipulate their height, hitting switches in the order in which they are unlocked, and walking back and forth a bit. They’re so simple that the player might even trick themselves into looking for a more suitably elaborate solution when all they have to do is jump a bit.

You spend most of your time carrying around the playable character’s brother, who is never really given enough time to endear himself to the player before breaking his own legs to be anything more than an irritating burden. He slows you down, halves your jump height, and blocks your progress at a number of points. He’ll also kick up a fuss if you try to put him down in an area that doesn’t have a bright light directly beaming down on it – a fact which isn’t communicated particularly well at first – even if this well-lit area will very clearly lead to his death. This would be fine if it was a narrative-driven element of the gameplay as seen in Papo & Yo, but if it is then it’s terribly executed.

Mechanically, the game seems to have been put together a bit “slap-dash.” There’s far too many annoying bugs, such as the main character getting stuck on pieces of ground as insanely complicated as a slight rise, unable to simply move out of it unless he jumps. Game-breaking? No, but it’s very annoying the tenth time it happens. This frustration is only furthered when the playable character bounces off obstacles the player is trying to jump to instead of grabbing on like usual, and it frankly gets embarrassing when he gets locked into a climbing or waiting animation.

There’s also a few areas where clouds of dangerous red smoke will bar your passage until you wait for them to disappear, and then they’ll still kill you because the effects of it are inexplicably still there. The villains must have created invisible flames, or something.

Monochroma does a terrible job of communicating itself, and that’s particularly true of environmental elements. At one point the solution to a puzzle is so poorly conveyed that you’ll probably end up accidentally breaking the game and glitching ahead just as we did. There’s also an area of very static water that the playable character seems to be able to stand in just fine, but his little brother is swept to a horrible fall and swift death when left in it.

There’s a lot to be said for a good art direction in place of technical graphical prowess. Monochroma doesn’t have either. The well-worn monochrome aesthetic with splashes of red goes for a drab and dreary look but instead comes across as just plain dull. It’s a shame – there are some well-designed elements that are hindered by an artstyle that coats everything with a film that practically forces your eyes to glaze over. Those who actually enjoy having their eyes bleed will be delighted to know that there is also copious screen-tearing with no V-sync option.

The world suffers from this most of all. The two brothers travel from rural farmlands to factories, cities, and even Zeppelins, though you’d be forgiven for not even noticing that you were in a new area.

Monochroma’s soundtrack is actually good, but it’s hardly ever used. Most of the gameplay is accompanied by a silence that can’t even be described as ambient, probably resulting in the game’s struggle to establish any mood or atmosphere whatsoever.

Nowhere Studios were clearly aiming for the narrative mastery of other puzzle platformers like Limbo, Brothers and Papo & Yo. It lacks the inventive use of mechanics of any of these and more importantly the subtlety; replacing the Swastika with a giant M doesn’t make giant white-circle-on-red flags any less on-the-nose in its implications. The climax of the game even punches well above its weight range, the attempt at emotional poignancy just being a bit funny, really.

There’s a number of logical inconsistencies throughout the game’s narrative, the most egregious of these offenders coming when the only path forward separates the main character from his brother. There’s no reason for the main character to actually want to go down this path, aside from the fact that you need to in order to progress the story. The game arbitrarily blocks off a number of areas that lead to where you want to go, simply because that’s not what the creator intended. It’s lazy narrative in service of lazy level design.

When protagonists are so unsympathetic that players find themselves rooting for the villains – who appear to be Nazis, no less – just so the suffering ends, you probably shouldn’t have released the game. Every part of Monochroma is a mess: Broken physics, bad level design, poor narrative, an absence of atmosphere, and bad art design running rampant.

critical score 2

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

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