Distortions Review

With gaming becoming a truly global industry, it is increasingly common for titles to appear from countries outside the trinity of of Japan, North America and Europe. The different viewpoints, cultural interests and approaches that characterise these games all add to the welcome increase in diversity across the medium. Distortions is very much part of this new, more cosmopolitan industry, having garnered a great deal of attention in the developer’s native Brazil. However, keen as I am to encourage a wider pool of diversity into my gaming library, each title must still stand or fall on whether it manages to add something interesting and is enjoyable to play.

Early impressions are good, as the surreal world is lovingly created and there’s a dreamlike quality to the art style that perfectly suits the mysterious storyline and the central character’s journey to regain her memory. This amnesia induced storyline is not in and of itself hugely original, but the intimate focus on the psychological aspects of attempting to regain a lost identity is particularly welcome.

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Your character is simply referred to as the Girl, and mostly stands out through the vividness of her bright yellow raincoat. Having just played Little Nightmares (a very different feeling take on mysterious origins) I was struck by the coincidence of this clothing similarity. However, where Little Nightmares digs deep into dark, claustrophobic, and Gothic territory, Distortions contrasts the inner turmoil of the Girl’s mental state with a colourful and open looking world.

The openness of Distortion’s world is initially impressive, but it quickly becomes clear that it is heavily constrained by invisible barriers. The weird mix of open and linear exploration is reminiscent of walking simulators, yet the general mechanics are most like early 3D titles, complete with awkward platforming and frustrating camera. In its favour, Distortions does mix things up with sections in first person and some side scrolling escape sequences, alongside the standard third person perspective. Whilst these alternative viewpoints helped to break up the gameplay to some extent, they also highlighted the most annoying aspects of the main game.

Exploring the world of Distortions is not as fun or rewarding as it should be. The controls feel old fashioned, jumping is not particularly responsive, and the inevitable backtracking is rendered overly repetitive and obscure by the lack of variety in the landscape. There is a novel blend of Metroidvania and walking simulator enabled by the violin powers you unlock as you progress, but working out where to go is needlessly opaque; a problem that could have been solved with the inclusion of a better map. This area of frustration points to a larger issue I had with the game: in attempting to blend the mystery of a walking simulation with the gameplay of a third person adventure, Distortions manages to both drag out the narrative and hold back the freedom of exploration.

Despite my seemingly negative views of the game thus far, there is a lot of potential in Distortions. This is perhaps best illustrated by the use of the violin. Like Link’s ocarina, this instrument can affect the world around your character, and is the key puzzle solving mechanic throughout. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock songs that will protect you from the masked enemies hiding in dark areas, conjure up bridges to cross large gaps, and blow apart piles of rocks that block your path. These songs are played using a rhythm action system much like Guitar Hero or Rock Band.

The narrative importance of the Girl’s violin explains how it can achieve such magical results in her dreamworld and adds a fascinating aspect to the genre’s typically gradual exposition. However, the actual playing of these songs becomes repetitive rather quickly and it is only very late in the game that you unlock the ability to freely play the violin.

Aside from the issues I had with the somewhat clumsy signposting in the overly similar feeling world, the main frustration is provided by the masked enemies that frequent the caves and shadowy parts of Distortions. Initially your only defence is to run from these creatures, but once you find your violin you learn a song that acts as a shield. This didn’t always seem to work, however, and I frequently died when I thought I was protected. The unfairness of this mainly served to show why the involved storytelling of most walking simulators is separated from death mechanics. Once again, Distortions attempts to blur genre boundaries, but doesn’t quite pull it off.

What’s Good:

  • Interesting treatment of amnesia
  • Colourful setting
  • Beautiful violin music

What’s Bad:

  • Frustrating controls
  • Needlessly obscure
  • Annoying enemy interaction
  • Feeling of missed potential

Distortions is a really mixed bag. The overall story of the Girl facing her psychological demons and overcoming the traumatic experiences that stranded her in this fantasy dreamworld is interesting and well handled, and I really liked the idea of using the violin as a kind of magical totem to transform and manipulate the world. The switches between perspectives and moments of introspection point to a sensitive appreciation of the deeper emotional resonances of Distortion’s narrative, but it just isn’t that fun to play. Dated and unresponsive controls, needlessly obscure exploration, and frustratingly unpredictable enemy encounters mean that it almost works better as a Let’s Play watch than it does as a game. Though the music is beautiful, hopefully Among Giants can improve for their next title.

Score: 6/10

Available for PC

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Written by
Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.