What’s the real purpose of a video-game? Is it supposed to entertain? To tell a story? To leave us with something once we’re done? With titles like 0°N 0°W seeing the light of day, these questions become more relevant than ever.
In the past, we considered a game any interactive experience that gave the player a final goal. That was, of course, until the so-called narrative walking simulators began to gain notoriety. A spicy breeze of revolution was soon in the air; one that the people at Colorfiction were clearly trying to capitalize on.
Today, we use the term to describe anything that strays from the high-octane action that modern gaming can offer. Still, 0°N 0°W only partially fits within the category. As minimal as it was, stuff like The Stanley Parable presented some sort of challenge. Here, the focus seems to be elsewhere!
Something I can’t Quite Put My Finger On
I couldn’t but keep that in mind as I prepared all I needed for this review. After all, the premise upon which the entire experience is built – as well as the way it controls – do their best to remind us exactly what we’re about to undertake.
Right from the start, 0°N 0°W will be more akin to a virtual journey than a proper game. In fact, I suspect the developer hoped for their players to take their time as they struggled with moving forward. Past the obligatory trademarks and a much needed epilepsy warning, I was soon facing a rather odd and equally unsettling menu.
There were no intuitive icons telling me what to expect, no text informing me of what my choice might lead to. I did what just about anybody would: closed my eyes and clicked on the first option in front of me. It was the picture of an open door; it brought me back to my PC’s desktop.
Setbacks aside, there’s some extremely juicy meat on this non-game’s bones. Just as promised, 0°N 0°W teleports you to a dynamic abstract world where your mind might finally reach its melting point. The first-person journey will be different with each playthrough, potentially leading to countless hours of adventuring. I’ve visited far lands, trespassed into private rooms, and even followed the developer on a road trip.
Unfortunately, there’s something that detracts from this feeling of awesomeness. No matter the efforts, trial and error will always be your best way to proceed. While the title grows around the concept of exploration, for instance, you’ll often have no way to retrace your steps. In the long run, this obviously got frustrating.
Add that to the aforementioned lack of purpose and you can imagine how quickly the concept ages. It only took me 20 or so minutes to begin wishing I were elsewhere. Gathering enough information to write a proper assessment was going to be a challenge!
Let’s Talk Usability
I’ve called 0°N 0°W a non-game because this is clearly what it wants to be. The eerie atmosphere, the colorful imagery, the extremely minimalistic UI all point in that direction. Still, regardless of how hard it tries to break free, the title remains shackled by its being a computer app.
Soon, 0°N 0°W’s flaws come to the fore. Among other things, the controls feel sluggishly sticky. Additionally, The game offers no intuitive way to save your progress or to know which of the scenarios you had already gone through. Advanced graphics settings, accessibility options, a one-click-quit panic button against seizures, and a much-needed colorblind mode were also nowhere to be found.
Ultimately, though, what shocked me was the lack of adherence to standards. Whether it was intentional or not, it threw me off and made me hate my time with the game. Just as an example, the devs decided M would be a more suitable key for the in-game menu than the usual ESC. Not completely unheard for, but rather uncommon.
Perhaps worried people like me might need a reminder, they then decided to show players how to access each part of the game. The attempt to clear things up failed, though, when they used two gears – an icon which usually means interact – rather than going with a single one or opting for a wrench.
The result of all these peculiar choices? I spent 10 good minutes hitting each key on my keyboard until I finally managed to find the right one. Something tells me I’m not going to be the only one doing something like this!
Yay or Nay?!
They say UX design can make or break the future of any program. It doesn’t matter how much eye candy or functionality you put in, your users won’t like jumping through hoops to get the prize. In the end, it wasn’t the content nor the lack of purpose that put me off 0°N 0°W; it was the need to find a compromise in order to keep playing.
In its current state, I would be hesitant to give 0°N 0°W a pass. Before the game can hope to enthrall a larger crowd, perhaps taking a step back and addressing some of these issues might be in order. In the meantime, you can keep an eye on the project’s progress here. The guys at Colorfiction are already working on a series of improvements and I’m sure more will soon follow suit!