Down the rabbit hole
Running through a world of black and white, simple geometric shapes surround you. Changes in the light bring them into and out of visibility. An alien hum drones on in the background, filling your blood with ice. The contrast is blinding. You’re completely defenseless. There are many ledges to fall from… and you don’t want to die in this world of black and white, where walls have no textures, where everything seems made out of blocks. You want to press on. You want answers, and an escape, but you’re not sure you’ll get either. Indeed, as you rush through the mind-bending world, you become increasingly uncertain that you’ll ever see the light of day again.
This is the world of NaissanceE, an incredibly immersive first-person platformer from Limasse Five. And it is a fascinating world indeed, especially early on. But, like many first-person platformers, it quickly becomes hindered by poor design choices.
A Monolithic Journey
The goal of NaissanceE is always to reach the next area alive—usually through a combination of exploration, puzzle solving, platforming, and pure dumb luck. There's no inventory in the game, and no combat. You just walk, run, jump, crouch, and breathe. Breathing means clicking the mouse button at the right time while running in order to regain stamina. This heightens tension at times, but frequently just gets annoying.
NaissanceE's visuals must be seen to be believed. The strange, alien geometries mix with an incredible sense of scale to create a world that feels full of mysteries. As you explore abandoned cityscapes and vast technological caverns, it's easy to get vertigo, and also to feel like you're adventuring through a genuinely fantastic world. You want to see what wonders lie around the next corner. It felt like exploring an M.C. Escher painting, or the alien city H.P. Lovecraft described in At the Mountains of Madness, or even the world of 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, the high contrast can be very hard on the eyes, and playing for too long can actually become painful.
Early puzzles in the game are very original, requiring players to use light-orbs to manipulate shadows, and in doing so making certain boxes tangible or intangible. For the first few hours, at least, I felt as though I was playing a genuinely fantastic new title. It's a shame, then, that the game takes such an unfortunate turn in the second half.
From puzzler to obstacle course
All too quickly, the light-based puzzles disappear from the game, replaced by awkwardly-executed first person platforming segments. It is interesting enough to ride on a giant slug made of constantly-moving blocks, but running along pipes covered in fans doesn't have the same sense of wonder. The platforming sequences become so dull and so frequent that they feel like a betrayal against the piece of art that the game begins as.
Things are made worse by the save system. You can't quicksave anywhere; instead, you must rely on checkpoints, which are few and far between. All too frequently in the game, you will fall to your death, only to find out that the last checkpoint was five to ten minutes ago. You end up having to play through huge chunks of the game over and over again. It makes one wonder why they don't just let you respawn from where you fell, without having to load the level all over again.
The game is unfortunately not bug-free, and some crashes halt the entire experience. Depending on your machine and whether you're playing the game at 60 FPS, certain puzzles can be unsolvable. This cripples a game that's all about sustaining immersion. Developer Limasse Five promises that these issues will be addressed in an upcoming patch. Perhaps they'll also consider adding in a quicksave function while they're at it? It would make the platforming segments far more tolerable. Hell, if the game let me save anywhere and didn't have game-crashing bugs, I'd bump up its score by a full number.
Who is playing whom?
NaissanceE plays a lot of mind games, using repetition and illusion to keep you on your toes. Sometimes this means repeating hallways, or doorways that disappear once you go through them. Other times it means wandering through darkness, bumping about as you try to catch a glimpse of light.
One particularly awful sequence has you navigating through a seizure-inducing room where the floor and walls flash in such a way that it looks like a graphical glitch, and it is damn difficult to navigate - especially since failing to recognize the barely-visible ground means falling to your death. It's one of many maddening sequences that the game would have been far better without.
The story, sadly, is never explained. The game begins by telling us “Lucy is lost,” but we never find out who Lucy is, or how she ended up in this strange place. Worse, the game's ending is incredibly abrupt and unsatisfying, to the point where it doesn't feel like an “ending” at all. All the frustrating jumping puzzles end up feeling like they've been for nothing.
Flawed, but worth it?
NaissanceE should be commended for its artistic vision. It's just a shame that the developers didn't fully commit to that vision. If the entire game had focused on the puzzles that made its first few hours such a delight, it would have been a near-masterpiece. As it is, the game still comes recommended...but only for non-epileptic players who have a high tolerance for frustration.
Breathtaking atmosphere; interesting shadow puzzles; highly immsersive.
No quicksave; game-breaking bugs; irritating platforming sequences; playing for too long makes your eyes hurt.