Review: NORTH (PS4)

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While it’s under an hour in length (or maybe just over an hour if you get stuck or play at a slower pace – hey, I’m old and slow!), NORTH is a pretty unique and memorably weird game from developer Outlands Games ported by Sometimes You to PS4. A first person game about the pathway to immigration as presented in a surreal land inhabited by some bizarre-looking alien lifeforms, it’s also an interestingly timely game experience that’s also intentionally visually unsettling. Imagine David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Fritz Lang teaming up to make a ‘walking simulator’ with light adventure game elements and you’d be somewhat close.

The game’s brevity is noted at the beginning and you’re also told you can’t save your progress because the story is meant to be played/told in one sitting. There are also no options to change the game’s brightness level and you’s better be comfortable with the non-configurable controls as well. The game places intentional restrictions on the player as he attempts to make it through the intentionally confusing mix of exploration and mild to maddening puzzle solving required to eventually secure asylum in the strange world he’s ended up in.

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The instructions are only revealed over time as you interact with objects and “people” to get cues to mail letters to your sister in some faraway land. Each letter sent gets you a clue or clues on what needs to be accomplished next, so paying attention to them is a big key in advancing the story. Wandering about in the darkened streets leading to a dimly lit apartment and talking to your roommates along with interacting with items reveals your first letter and soon, it’s off to a bizarre job where you’ll be tasked with trying to accomplish a seemingly impossible task that can actually kill your character until you get it right. Well, it’s a short and not hard section… unless you miss a certain item or happen to have a busted controller (oops).

You only need to complete that job part once, so the game pushes you to move onto the next area and a different sort of puzzle, rinsing and repeating until the ending. The art direction is simplistic on one hand, but fully manages to convey a unique sense of immersion in the game space. While there are some disturbing images and strange-looking creatures to ogle, the game is less about horror and more about perception from a few angles. While not overtly political, it’s easy to read into things as in man, it’s tough as hell being from another country trying to make it legally into a new one for a better life. The game in no way endorses a particular viewpoint and both religion and law become part of the process as your character strives for a hopefully better life.

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The game has a few quirks, but should you run into something that seems to halt your progress, you can simply replay from the beginning. I actually cracked the stick on my Dual Shock 4 (yeah, yeah, I needed to replace it a month or so back), so my first play through had to be cut short. Amusingly, when I replaced the controller and replayed the game from the beginning, I was so caught up in playing that I forgot to record my gameplay (gyaaaaah!). But I’ll go make a clip for posterity and post it once I knock out a few more reviews. That last puzzle in the game took a bit of head scratching and an eventual face palm when I figured out what needed to be done. Still, as noted, NORTH is indeed one of those games that will stick with you long after its been completed and is short enough to hop into again if you’re willing.

Score: B+ (85%)

-GW

Review code provided by the publisher

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