Unique puzzle games aren’t dying out; in fact, they’re flourishing in digital formats. Closure is a perfect example: It launched for various browsers a year before coming to the PlayStation Network, and gamers everywhere have been singing the game’s praises. Original, creative, demanding, and ultimately rewarding, this one has a singular style and plenty of longevity due to a grand total of 72 puzzles spread out over 3 different worlds. It’s just mesmerizing.
At first glance, Closure will remind puzzle aficionados of Playdead’s critically acclaimed Limbo. The black and white palette doesn’t diminish the presentation’s appeal; in fact, this minimalist approach enhances the stunning creativity and imagination behind the game’s environment. And considering that shadow and illumination are big parts of the gameplay, that environment continually shifts and alters, giving the player a simple yet surprisingly immersive and highly involving adventure that remains fresh throughout.
The captivating audio fits beautifully, as the tracks instill one with a combined sense of urgency and melancholy. It’s as if the designers wanted to embed much of the game’s strange and elusive story in the soundtrack, so the player feels something with every step. When our visibility is impaired and we’re searching vainly for both light and an exit, sound becomes critical. Thankfully, the game makers recognized this and put a lot of effort into the music. The effects are limited and subtle but then again, that’s precisely the point. In short, the technical elements blend together extremely well.
And beneath that impressive and even memorable ambiance is a challenging, beautifully designed puzzler that, while occasionally frustrating and not entirely free of a few small gameplay hitches, remains a fantastic accomplishment. Developer Eyebrow Interactive (a grand total of three people are part of the team) has already earned the 2012 Indie Game Challenge Grand Prize alongside an impressive Indiecade Gameplay Innovation Award. The best part is that after these accolades arrived in 2009, the guys worked hard to optimize their game for the PSN.
Entire books have been written concerning the eternal contrast of light and dark, and the accompanying philosophical musings have occupied heavy thinkers down through history. Closure isn’t quite so profound, of course, but you might be surprised at its stunning achievement in the realm of artistry and special communication. After all, art is all about communicating and throughout this game, you start to hear the hidden plot behind your quest; you feel it and sense it more than anything, as the relatively light narrative doesn’t tell you much.
But again, that’s part of art: Showing and not telling. We feel the communication from the developers throughout, whether we’re successfully forging a path or falling into a bottomless abyss…we’re tethered to an umbilical cord that continually feeds us. It’s quite stimulating. As for the gameplay, perspective is everything and the dark is your enemy. If it’s visible, it’s real (you may recall a similar concept in echochrome), and if it’s real, you can use it. When the same objects go invisible due to a lack of light, they basically cease to exist; so in other words, just because it was there doesn’t mean it’s still there.
In each level, you must find the exit. The door isn’t always easy to find (duh) and sometimes, you need a special key to enter. That key, like everything else in this dark dream world of sorts, is subject to the same bizarre rules, which means it too must stay in the light. If you lose the key, you lose the level. But maybe the best part of this particular puzzler is that you never feel pressured in regards to time. You won’t be graded on how quickly you finish a puzzle and if you fail, there’s no penalty for trying again. This doesn’t mean it’s easy, however.
All this does is make it more accessible and cuts down on the frustration factor. What can contribute to frustration are a few quirky control mechanics that can get in the way. You can either use the analog stick or the directional pad, though, which means you have an option if one particular style suits you better. I remember recommending using the directional pad in Catherine because it was easier to control; one press meant one step up on a block; the analog wasn’t as precise in my opinion. Here, though, it’s more a matter of personal preference.
By the way, it’s almost impossible to describe the protagonist in this game because he (or “it”) really defies explanation. I figured I’d mention that, just to pique your curiosity concerning the aforementioned atmosphere that tends to stick with you long after you finished your play session. Something else that sticks with you is this impending sense of doom, that the next time you go back, things are going to be a lot tougher. It’s not so much that there’s a difficulty spike, but later puzzles will definitely tax your problem-solving capabilities to the max.
It’s all about guiding the light and avoiding the shadow; it’s about finding your way through a surreal, shifting landscape that can be completely safe one minute and deadly the next. And yet, it’s all so subtle; the urgency to solve the puzzle always lurks just below the surface. A few of the later puzzles really do seem somewhat obscure and I’d even venture to say they’re not as immaculately designed as the earlier levels, but that may be more of a subjective observation. There’s no reason for me to suggest that you won’t be sucked into this very enticing puzzler.
Closure is one of those games that just has to be experienced. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’ll probably be thankful that you tried it. Games like this don’t come around that often and despite a few small quirks and eccentricities, this is one of the premier puzzlers currently available on the PSN. Provided you’ve got the requisite patience and you don’t mind the somewhat slow pace (there’s nothing frenetic about this one), you should be in for an original, challenging treat.
The Good: Fantastic artistic design. Great audio presentation. Original style is undeniably appealing. Well-designed puzzles. High sense of satisfaction. Gameplay is both challenging and addictive. Plenty of bang for your buck.
The Bad: A few small control drawbacks. Later puzzles can seem vague and frustrating. Pacing is a little off.
The Ugly: “Okay, I am so not getting this.”
4/9/2012 Ben Dutka