“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
So begins Franz Kafka’s novella, Metamorphosis, a story of alienation and self-discovery that speaks to the outsider within us all. Kafka’s stylistic treatment of the layers of absurdity and bureaucracy that confine and control the modern world are perfectly suited to gaming, as players are well used to carrying out menial tasks and jumping ridiculous hurdles. In adapting the story into a game, developers Ovid Works have taken a few liberties, most notably changing Samsa’s insectoid form into a regular sized bug.
During a disorientating and surreal opening played out in a first person perspective, you awake to discover that you, as Gregor, have undergone the titular metamorphosis and are now an insect. At first, this change seems superficial as you explore a room and find a key to unlock the door. So far, so normal, but upon leaving the room, you shrink and must attempt to navigate an identical copy of it from a very different perspective. This tutorial works well to introduce you to the very different movement set available in your tiny six-footed form. Desks become environments filled with platforming puzzles, table-edges are perilous cliffs, and pencils bridges between areas.
It isn’t just the bugs-eye perspective that stands out here, as you also have a movement set that fits your insectoid form. Scuttling along at high speed and taking impressive leaps of faith between household objects quickly becomes second nature, although taking the speed of travel for granted can often lead to a sickening death – accompanied by a suitably unpleasant squishing sound. It takes a little longer to become accustomed to the traversal opportunities available through your new body, as you are able to climb up some surfaces; and even scale vertical walls after coating your feet in sticky fluids (cough mixture, honey, ink, etc.). This mechanic offers a verticality that is rarely seen in first person games outside of the Aliens vs Predator franchise. At first, this approach leads to some confusing paths but as the game develops it really opens the levels out.
In his novella, Kafka left instructions that no illustrations of Gregor’s changed state were to be made, as he intended the result to be left open to interpretation (instructions that have been consistently ignored since the earliest critical editions) and true to this, you never get to see your own insectoid face, or at least not during the early sections available in this preview. I played the first hour or so and found myself exploring drains and vents as well as rooms, whilst trying to make my way to The Tower – a sinister destination that promises to offer a potential cure. Similar to the underrated Deadly Creatures from the Wii, the humans in the background carry some of the narrative burden, with incredibly authentic Kafka-esque dialogue around the aforementioned bureaucracy and labyrinthine regulations within which Gregor’s best friend becomes entrenched.
My early impressions of Metamorphosis are really positive and I can’t wait to see how Gregor’s quest to return to his human form progresses. Without wishing to venture into possible spoilers, I certainly hope that the videogame version has brighter prospects than his literary forbear. We’ll be sure to bring you a full review when the full version scuttles out this week on 12th August.