Tuesday, April 21, 2020

REVIEW: A Fold Apart

Puzzle games are a perfect genre for developers to experiment with unique yet simple concepts while also exploring their own creativity beyond game design. A Fold Apart from Lightning Rod Games is one such example that takes a single gameplay mechanic and using it to further a visually charged, emotionally driven narrative adventure.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of A Fold Apart courtesy of Lightning Rod Games.
Opinions are my own.

After career choices force them along separate paths, a Teacher and Architect vow to make their long-distance relationship work at any cost. Experience both sides of their story as the couple navigates the complexities of (mis)communication and the emotional ups and downs that separation brings. By flipping, folding, and unfolding the paper puzzles in their handcrafted worlds, you can help the couple overcome the emotional barriers of their relationship — but will love endure…?

This game sure was something else. At a glance it looked like A Fold Apart was just going to feature a few dozen levels of paper folding puzzles and that'd be it. Instead, the game sends players through a story driven experience that leans harder on its narrative than any puzzle game I've ever played.

The story follows two nameless characters of whatever gender you want. After falling in love, the blue architect has just accepted a job on the other side of the world, leaving the Orange school teacher back home. Everything that follows deals with the troubles of long distance relationships and social anxiety in the world of digital communication and stressing about the words they say to each other and the thoughts they keep to themselves. 

There are sections of the game that feel more like a walking simulator than a puzzle game. Between each major segment is a short scene where you control one character on a fixed path as the two partners text each other. There are even a few dialogue choices, although I don't think those actually effect the story that much.

I can't speak to how it depicts long distance relationships, but the texting bits are spot on. How often do we fret about a single word in a larger e-mail? What do they mean, what are they saying? Or, on the other side, who hasn't regretting their own choice of words when texting someone - instant wishing you could take them back? A Fold Apart beautifully creates a realistic look at social anxiety in the age of digital communication.

The bulk of the actual game takes place across more than fifty puzzles that involve folding paper in a variety of ways to get your depressed little person from one realm of despair to the next. There are enough gimmicks to the puzzles that once you think you've mastered them, another comes out of nowhere.

Putting a small platformer inside of the puzzle was another excellent decision. Often, you're not just trying to connect the starting point on one corner of the page to the exit on another. You'll have to fold, move your character, unfold, move, and then refold and so on. The puzzles never get old and the challenges always keep you on your toes.

The most notable thing about A Fold Apart is its visual style. The characters and the environment were built using 3D graphics with a tactile, “homemade” paper aesthetic. Every level is beautifully rendered and the soundtrack creates an atmosphere that really pulls you into the character's real and imaginary worlds. A Fold Apart feels like you're playing one of those experimental Pixar short films.

My only complaint with the game is how short it is. The story has a strong set up, but it's quickly followed by repetitive sequences and then an abrupt and somewhat anticlimactic ending. It could've used a few extra plot points - maybe even some side characters. I finished the whole thing in about 4 hours and actually wanted to know more about the characters.

The perfect game for fans of unique puzzles and emotionally driven stories, A Fold Apart is available now on Steam, Apple Arcade, and Switch and coming soon to PS4 and Xbox One.