Right from the beginning the Void is a surreal experience.
You begin by walking out of a an infinite ocean of blackness, where you’re greeted by perpetual ear whisperer The Nameless Sister, who ‘explains’ that you are in the Void, a realm between life and death, where colour is everything. She directs you to grow and harvest colour in order to fill your hearts, which are needed to survive. No, this doesn’t make any sense in context either.
Describing your overall goal is even more difficult, you are constantly given contrasting directives by different characters. The Sisters, beautiful and often inexplicably naked women, want you to give them colour (something that is essential in order to open up new areas) while the Brothers, freakish monstrous creatures of flesh and metal, demand you not only cease, but often act against sisters and rip out their hearts (this is essential not to have them stab you on the face). In the end you end up desperately trying to obey each side as much as possible in order to survive.
The Brothers are body horror incarnate
Survival really isn’t easy in The Void either, collecting colour will give you lympha, which can be fed into your hearts. While in the Void itself (essentially the world map) colour pumps through your heart, coming out the other end as nerva, which you can use, however when your hearts no longer contain any colour you will die. This mechanic will come back to haunt you time and time again while playing the Void, you are constantly dying while in the world map, yet time only passes when you are there. The main method of gaining colour is to give some of your nerva to trees, which will make them periodically bloom colour, however they only do so at the beginning of each cycle, and time only passes in the Void, where you’re slowly dying, this is the Catch 22 situation you are stuck in.
Colour has many uses, you use it to fight enemies, at first predators that lurk in the world, and later more powerful creatures like the brothers themselves. It’s main use however is to draw glyphs, each heart gives you a glyph, which has a unique effect, and is activated by drawing the shape of the glyph in colour across your screen. This mechanic has some serious problems, the game often fails to recognise anything less than a perfect drawing, particularly frustrating when attempting to donate colour to trees, as failing to draw the glyph correctly results in a significantly reduced harvest each cycle.
Colour trees are astonishingly beautiful.
If that sounds frustrating, it’s because it is, for an ‘art game’ The Void is astonishingly difficult and counter intuitive. Several key aspects, like the trees, are not fully explained at the time, which can lead the player to screw themselves over within the first few minutes, making it near impossible to advance properly later on. The shear quantities of colour required to advance between areas mean that you are constantly driven to grow and harvest colours, seeking out as many little shoots of colour to power your trees as possible. This, along with a maddeningly low walking speed make for slow progress. For a game that seems to invest so much in it’s story and setting, The Void is very reticent to allow you to progress into it.
The story itself is as strange as every other part of the game the Sisters and Brothers are constantly giving you contrasting directives, with differing attitudes. One sister believes that we’re all dying and takes a hedonistic approach to colour, others believe that you are a sign that their realm is being reborn. The Void is constantly giving the sense that it might be conveying some sort of theme or message, but if it is it was lost on me, and instead the story merely consists of the strange fiction of this land. While it might seem deep, in reality The Void never seeks to be anything more than strange and beautiful.
However all of them get naked when you give them colour for some reason
And it truly is beautiful, featuring some astonishing art direction. The Void is a bleak and grey place, with each drop of colour standing out, shining the the darkness, and the brothers are truly terrific, nightmarish designs seemingly ripped directly from the feverish dreams of Heironymous Bosch. From the very beginning I was desperate to explore the bizarre and enchanting world, which is what made it so frustrating that the game seemed to be almost designed to prevent me from doing so.
It seems a bizarre decision on Ice Pick Lodge’s part to make the barrier to entry so unnecessarily high, making many who would appreciate it’s beauty simply unable to play it. In the end it remains totally impenetrable, the world is strange and beautiful, but simply not adequate reward for the incredibly frustrating experience of actually playing the game.
EDIT – This review was written shortly before our new scoring guide came out, in light of this I have adjusted the game score slightly to better reflect my views, the text of the review is unchanged.