As many gamers undoubtedly know, the question of whether games should be considered an art form is a slightly controversial and frequently debated one. Regardless, a number of developers in recent years have seen fit to express artistic concepts in the form of games, a practice that promotes innovation and creativity in the industry. Victi: Blood Bitterness, the first of a planned series of episodic adventure games by indie French developer Freegamer, is one such artistic pursuit. It strives to set itself apart from your typical adventure by creating a dark, foreboding universe where everything is hopeless, chaotic, and urgent, and having its gameplay mechanics deliberately reflect such an emotion. Without a doubt, such a concept is unique and innovative in theory -- the question is, does it succeed in practice?
In Victi, you play Dehon, the last remaining grand disciple of Gomend, former ruler of a stylized ancient civilization of masked, hooded, Darth Vader-esque creatures. You have just killed your three brothers for reasons of selfish, personal gain, and are now left completely alone to escape from a strange disembodied force of evil that has invaded the palace in which you live. Essentially, the aim of this particular episode is to find your way safely out of this palace. Pretty simple and unsubstantial, really, but then again, it is only the first of a series, and it seems likely that further episodes will delve deeper into the world's history and tell more interesting stories.
The most noticeable feature of Victi is, without a doubt, its unique aesthetic style. The game uses a full 3D engine, but instead of being rendered in full, lifelike detail, everything is in a black and white comic book style reminiscent of Sin City, with small areas of colour accentuating the world, such as a red stain of blood or a blue book. Even in spite of the game's limited budget, the art looks smooth and professional, and succeeds in bringing about the game's dark, desolate atmosphere. In addition, the interface -- a minimalistic third-person point-and-click affair in which you use the left mouse button to move your character and the right mouse button to interact with things -- is simple and unobtrusive, allowing for further immersion into the world rather than distraction from a needlessly complicated control system.
Music and sound effects in the game are of a creepy electronic sort -- another very fitting addition to the atmospheric discord present throughout. Characters speak either by breathing heavily or by murmuring things in a purposely unintelligible gibberish language, with subtitles detailing what they're actually saying. One minor annoyance is that there is no way to skip Dehon's inner monologues. However, since he isn't a particularly verbose character, this is less of a problem than it would be in most adventure games.
Puzzles, on the other hand, are a different story. Those who complain vehemently about episodic games being too short and easy by nature would likely be proven wrong in playing this game. Inevitably, owing to the artistically discordant and confusing nature of the game, the puzzles you have to solve are very much on the difficult side. Expect pattern recognition, obscure clue gathering, timed sequences, and an awful lot of wandering around trying to figure out exactly what it is you're supposed to be doing. One particular example that sticks out in my mind is having to close every single door in the palace before being allowed to access certain rooms. If the game's designers wanted the player to feel hopeless and uneasy, they certainly have succeeded in this regard.
Another very important point is that you can easily die in this game. Furthermore, your untimely demise can be triggered by anything from walking off the edge of a precipice to passing through an unmarked, seemingly random space in a room. Dying, of course, wouldn't be all that much of a disadvantage if it weren't for the lack of a saved game feature -- the game is divided instead into four checkpoints, or "acts", and when you die, you are forced to continue from the last act you finished. This means having to go back and perform various actions over again in order to get back to where you were before dying, to the point where trying to finish the game is no longer just a mental workout, but a frustratingly tedious chore. In other words, you'll certainly get a lot more playing time out of Victi than you would out of most other episodic adventure titles, though whether it's time well spent is questionable.
Victi: Blood Bitterness can currently be purchased only as a download, either from the developer's website or at the GarageGames online store, where it is curiously listed under the name Vigil: Blood Bitterness. The full game is just under 200 MB, and a smaller demo download is available for those who would prefer to sample the game first, which I strongly suggest doing if the premise intrigues you. From my own experience, I can say with conviction that Victi succeeds in applying its artistic objectives. Sadly, as a game in and of itself, it does not work nearly as well, and as such, I can recommend it only to the most fortitudinous of adventure gamers. Not all is lost, however, as Freegamer itself has stated that it will use players' feedback to improve the gameplay in subsequent episodes of Victi. Here's hoping that they do, as they'll need it to meet the challenge of creating a series that is as enjoyable to play as it is artistic.