[Free-Game Friday is a weekly feature in which a writer from the Gamer Limit staff looks at a completely free game and discusses his/her experience with it, allowing you to download it at the end. Feel free to check out our full schedule right here!]
Every once in a while, a game will come along that tells a story in the most obscure way possible. There will be Charlie Brown’s teacher-style dialogue; the characters will look like they were assembled with building blocks; you will be a spy… I think. It’s hard to tell what’s going on, honestly.
This time, that game is Gravity Bone. It’s free, and it’s a sublime gaming experience.
GB is an indie game utilizing the Quake II engine. Dated, yes, but the style of the levels and characters are such that you won’t even notice.
You should probably play it before I have the opportunity to ruin it for you. It’s only fifteen minutes long, and you can download it here. I’ll wait…
Wasn’t that AWESOME?!
The entire game relies upon the gaming conventions that have been forced into you since the first day you picked up a controller: do what the game tells you to do, because there are no other options.
Blindly, you obey your invisible masters. To what end, though?
You start the game in a descending elevator. You arrive at a party with nothing but a card in your hand. “Go to the furnace room,” it says. Why not?
You sneak past a waiter into the Employees Only area, then make your way to the furnace room. Here, you find a briefcase with further instructions. You blindly obey. You put on the disguise and deliver the drink because the briefcase tells you to.
You sneak to the exit, and you beat the level. You still have no idea what’s going on, but you seem to be progressing, so you keep going. What’s next?
Level two, you break locks and photograph exploding birds. Success! Then you make your way to the exit… and your world is turned upside down.
There is so much more to this game than it lets on. You explore parties full of well-to-do people while smooth lounge music plays in the background. The game seems so innocuous, but there’s layer after layer under the surface.
Without spoiling the ending, I can’t figure out whether it’s a critique on the casual evil we perpetrate on others, like the ending of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, or if they just wanted to pull the rug out from under their players, or if they merely wanted their game to be different from the sprawling epics that are usually too much exactly what we expect.
Whatever the developer was attempting, it made me think. It also made me ponder the time we spend on games, and if it’s really all worth it. In the fifteen minutes you spend experiencing Gravity Bone, you could have played one (just one) match of Call of Duty, or had one (just one) full conversation in Dragon Age: Origins.
If I could find a multitude of games that are similar to Gravity Bone‘s length and quality, I don’t know if I’d need any of the 80-hour big boys. If small games could be this great, incredible bite-sized gaming might be plenty for me.
Unfortunately, they usually aren’t. Peruse the Xbox Live Indie Games section and pick a few titles at random. Odds are, the games you’ll pick will be both short AND not very fun. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Short can still be fun. Short can still be paradigm-shifting.
Spreading my argument to other art forms, a lot of people enjoyed Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. Yet, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” had a much more profound impact on me as a young reader. I’m not sure if it was the brevity or the clear, simple images, but Frost’s work has always stuck out in my mind. Perhaps the short length encourages an immediate re-read, enabling it to latch its literary barbs deeper into my subconscious. It’s the same way with Gravity Bone.
An immediate replay to see if you could do something different proves fruitless. This isn’t Edmund. There’s no secret ending. There’s no happy ending. There’s just a straightforward narrative that couldn’t have happened any other way. By eliminating the player’s freedom, by giving him only one choice that he would have made anyway, Blendo Games was able to craft a mini-story with a sharp twist and profound philosophical implications.
At the ending, it’s over. There’s no Oblivion-style tying up of loose ends. Game over. The end.
This game will stick out in my mind as one of the fiercest gaming experiences of my life, because it is like life.
You think you’re finally getting a grip on what’s going on, and then it’s over. SNAP. Just like that.