Visiontrick Media’s Pavilion: Chapter 1 represents the first half of a “fourth-person puzzling adventure,” with players controlling not the game’s protagonist, but rather the environment around him. While not an entirely unique conceit, this iteration is buoyed from the start by an interesting mix of satisfying puzzles of varying difficulty, a gorgeous ambient soundtrack and lush visuals. However, the highly-symbolic and abstract narrative could benefit from more concreteness and an exploration of the player’s own god-like role. More problematic, the technical presentation suffers, especially late in the game, including levels freezing and bugs that cause skipping whole sections of the game, requiring workarounds to continue playing or to see what was missed. Thankfully these issues don’t sour the experience too much, but the glaring lack of polish noticeably tarnishes an otherwise enjoyable opening installment.
The goal in Pavilion is to help guide the protagonist through each of the game’s 28 isometric maze-like levels. This is, naturally, easier said than done most of the time, with obstacles of various kinds placed between the character’s starting point and the level’s exit. Such impediments range from the mundane, like locked doors and dark areas that must be illuminated, to the fantastic, such as giant moveable stone blocks that glow when your cursor hovers over them, and snarling wolf heads mounted on walls that come alive when your unnamed charge draws near.
While the primary objective is to figure out the correct sequence of actions to help the man navigate the area, there is added challenge in understanding how he will respond to the environment around him, and particularly to your manipulations. For instance, ringing large bronze bells or turning on certain lights might indicate a path he should take or a door he should move to, while activating a stone block’s glow might cause him to run over and huddle next to it, seeking shelter. Moving that same block might cause him to follow it as you guide it around, providing a way for him to traverse large swaths of darkness covering the level. Ultimately, your task is to learn how to nudge him the right way using the objects that you control.
It’s an interesting twist on the typical puzzle game mechanic in which player and protagonist are one and the same, and it works very well here. It can be frustrating at times if you can’t quite work out exactly what you are supposed to be doing, or how to change the protagonist’s behavior, but experimentation is part and parcel of Pavilion’s gameplay, and I found the solutions to most, if not exactly all, puzzles to be intuitive when I exercised patience and observed the cause-effect relationship between my actions and the responses of the character. As far as I could tell, there is no point at which the protagonist can outright die, so if you do something apparently foolish like running him into danger, either the game intends for you to do this (usually for narrative purposes) or else the man will return to the nearest designated safe area, signified by a fireplace-like object in front of which he amusingly warms his hands while waiting for your next instruction.
Given that the protagonist isn’t constantly roaming around, unlike similar fourth-person games like Back to Bed, you can usually complete levels at your own pace, though there are a few exceptions to this rule. Most notably are several sequences where you have a limited amount of time to execute your actions once you start them. These puzzles aren’t typically too complex, but some players who have dexterity issues may find a few of them difficult to solve. For most others I don’t expect this to be a problem, however. In general, the puzzling in Pavilion is very balanced and enjoyable. While not every level presents significant challenge, those that do are very satisfying to solve and tended to make me feel quite clever, especially if I took my time to work out an understanding of the mechanics, rather than trying solutions blindly and hoping for the best. Even one stage that is substantially more complex, involving a series of pressure plates that unlock doors, is solvable with patience and keen observation, though I became frustrated enough that I looked at a walkthrough (and felt a little dumb for missing the solution).
There are objects for the character to find, such as keys for locked doors, hidden inside dressers and out-of-the-way alcoves scattered throughout some levels, but these items are collected and used automatically, so there isn’t really an inventory system per se. A few objects like a photograph of an important in-game location seem to be completely optional to find, usually by taking secondary routes through a given stage, but while I was never certain as to whether they had a particular purpose gameplay-wise, they are not completely without relevance as they typically allude to narrative elements.
Speaking of narrative, this is one of two significant issues I have with Pavilion, though the second is more serious. I call it a “narrative” because to refer to the events that occur over the course of the game as a “story” would be fairly inaccurate. It’s not that things don’t happen to contextualize your actions, though I’m hesitant to get too specific since whatever mystery the game does build up can be easily spoiled by revealing too much. Suffice it to say that the apparent intent is to be an allegorical tale, rather than having a discrete plot as such. Unfortunately, Pavilion leaves too much to the player’s imagination, and feels unsatisfying as a result. Having reached the end (which, of course, only constitutes the first of two chapters), I believe I understand what the game is “about,” but it is very much open to speculation. Does the environment represent the protagonist’s mental state, perhaps? Who are you, the player? Given that you have a definite presence in the game distinct from that of the protagonist, what role are you playing? A god? The protagonist’s subconscious mind?Continued on the next page...