Created by Luca Redwood (EightyEight Games) with art by Octavi Navarro and music by Ben Prunty, the gorgeous indie game Photographs comes out today on Steam and mobile. I’d previously played the demo at EGX Rezzed ,in 2018 and was intrigued by the way its stories unfolded.
I hadn’t played any of Redwood’s previous games but am a big fan of Octavi Navarro’s pixel artwork. So I was very keen to play Photographs all the way through in one go. It took me nearly four hours. Photographs has a lovely soundtrack that sounds full of hope and innocence at the beginning of each sequence. As the game progresses, however, you’ll begin to recognize its gentle yet sad theme.
A handful of tales
Photographs might not strike you as one game exactly, it’s kind of like five games in one as each story has its own tailored style of puzzles. The tales are told by five very different characters: the Alchemist, the Athlete, the Jailer, the Journalist, and the Preventer.
You could easily see this as five chapters in a book. Each chapter takes approximately half an hour to complete, and I would definitely recommend you play all of them in one go. Slowly but surely, the pattern of each story will become clear over time.
Dreams and decisions
The excellent voice-acting in Photographs takes you into each story immediately, being recounted from a first-person point of view. This seems to increase the intimacy of each tale’s and add depth to the tragedies that unfold. Sometimes, it feels like you’re going through a photo album with each character while listening to their dreams and regrets.
To progress each story, you must solve puzzles of increasing difficulty. You’ll first receive a prompt to take a photo of a particular item in each beautifully-illustrated scene. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, a handy little arrow will pop up to guide you. The puzzles are then triggered by the photograph.
To give you an example, in the first tale, the puzzles require you to guide the alchemist and his granddaughter across an obstacle-laden grid. There is usually a back-and-forth timeframe which lets you work out your moves in each one of them. Trust me, you’ll be using it pretty frequently.
Figuring it out
It’s easy to see how the puzzles develop with their respective tales. For example, in the first tale, the puzzles gradually include new developments in the story to reflect real-time scenarios. By contrast, it’s sometimes less easy to see the link between the photo you are taking and the next step in the tale. For example, it wasn’t clear why the photo of a red shirt or a photo of shampoo was important or particularly linked to the second story.
I found the hardest puzzle to solve took me more than 20 minutes somewhere in the fourth tale. It was the only point when I wish that a hint could have been provided.
Don’t worry: the puzzles aren’t too difficult to solve. Some take less than a minute, some take a few. Of all the puzzles in the game, I’d say my favourite ones were in the fifth tale, where all sorts of combinations could be summoned. I got a deeper sense of satisfaction from solving these ones.
The other minor niggle was a UX issue. In the journalist’s tale, I mistakenly selected the icon several times in the puzzles instead of the brush. This was occasionally a little confusing as the brush you were required to select sometimes appeared in different places.
A happy ending?
I don’t want to spoil this for you – it really depends on the choices you make! The five characters are very different, as are the problems they face. When I spoke to Redwood, he shared that he hoped players would be able to relate to at least one of the characters and root for them.
There are some incredibly cute details which are easy to miss – I mean, is it just me or does anyone else see the smiley face in the water cooler?
The choices I made led me to a bittersweet but hopeful ending. Let us know which one you get! And if you enjoy Photographs, don’t forget to check out the other works by these talented game developers.