Mosaic isn’t a game that’s afraid to hide its message. Seeing a world where it’s hard to stand out, where so many people go from one day to the next, having little impact, simply being a cog in the great machine, Mosaic is all about the little acts of rebellion that lead up to something meaningful.
Set in a depressingly monotone city, you play as a mere worker, going from one day to the next, sticking to the routine that’s dictated to you by your job and the technology all around you. It’s simple, just get out of bed, leave your apartment, trudge to the tube station, pack yourself onto a train filled with people staring at their phones, work, go home, eat, sleep, repeat. There’s no individuality to be found here, no escape from the routine, with automated reminders that tell you that you’re running late, that you need to hurry to get to work on time.
You can just play Mosaic and follow the rules if you like – something which Krillbite actually told us quite a lot of people do – of you can find those little ways to break out of the pattern, to discover the little joys that still remain in this dark and foreboding city.
The visuals are deliberately very bleak, aiming to be as oppressive as possible, and the monotone aesthetic brings to mind the similarly dark and depressing Inside, albeit without the game simply trying to murder you at every turn. Buildings tower over you, dark and foreboding underpasses await, ridiculous eleven-lane traffic jams provide a hellish backdrop.
That makes every moment of respite from this, every little glimmer of something different, and every opportunity to do the opposite of what you’re told stand out all the more. Coming out of the apartment block, you’re meant to head to the right to the tube, but if you go left, you find the edge of the city, a tree, some cats to tickle on the chin before they run off. Even here, there’s darkness, as you see off in the distance more of the buildings being thrown up as the city grows. Stay too long and your phone pings to tell you you’re going to be late to work.
The phone is a gateway for a lot of this implied and actual control. It features fake news stories, sponsored content, and even an ultra-simple game called BlipBlop that has in-app purchases improve your button mashing ability. Think Cookie Clicker, but dystopian. However, the longer that you spend on the phone while walking, the blurrier the surroundings get as you’re gradually and quite effectively cut off from the world and your surroundings.
Put it away for a moment and daydreams can take hold should you spot something off in the distance that catches the eye. A bright yellow butterfly takes flight and suddenly you’re not controlling the guy on his way to work, but the butterfly trying to dodge the hostile environment it’s fluttered into. Can you help the butterfly escape this side-scrolling assault course? Or will you get it squished, trapped, or shredded?
Similarly, you might spot an open gate, leading to some of the technological infrastructure, finding a mystery within the city’s antenna system that you can try to unlock and uncover day by day. Each day presents you with a different part of the commute to or from work, gradually building and helping a game that’s all about monotony and conformity not tar itself with the same brush.
Coming out in the middle of 2019, Mosaic is an interesting game. I might not agree with its direct stance that phones are bad, per se – they do a wonderful job of connecting people and it’s not like people don’t bury their nose in newspapers and books to try and escape the fact that they’re sharing a metal box with dozens of other people – but it’s an effective push back against the monotony and uniformity that many people endure in everyday life.