When I began playing Sigur Studio’s Repressed, I expected a simple puzzle-platformer with small intervals of narrative possibly sprinkled in throughout to string a minimal story together. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find that this largely monochromatic adventure is more than that, conveying a sad yet engaging exploration of a person’s life through challenging puzzles involving light and shadow, representing both the truth and lies that dwell within our hearts. Repressed is very short, but its gameplay is fairly challenging and genuinely fun in between telling a captivating tale of accepting the truth to heal one’s wounded soul and learning how to move on.
The game begins with an introduction of the unseen protagonist’s therapist, Dr. Linda Young. From then on she’ll remain your companion in the form of an ever-present but disembodied voice. She explains to you that you’re currently participating in a simulation-like treatment method called “Deep Subconscious Visualization.” Without giving too much away, you are on a self-reflective journey of your own life. Dr. Young accompanies you, acting as your guide, constantly asking questions to clear up any confusion in your life, and correcting the many false memories locked deep within your subconscious so you can finally see the truth and move on from your past mistakes.
The most striking aspect of Repressed, and surely the first thing you’ll inevitably notice, is its minimalist presentation. The game’s entire art style is based on the simple dichotomy of light and shadow, and most of the world you traverse consists of solid white constructions surrounded by a pitch-black void. Some elements are taken from your life, so things like trees, park benches and other everyday objects are peppered into certain scenes. Much of the time, though, you’ll be observing only abstract architecture of pillars, isolated islands and pathways made of solid, textureless white shapes. The use of shadows and contrast make up for the lack of fine detail, creating a simple yet strangely alluring world that manages to effectively convey the enigmatic creation of one’s subconscious mind. It feels otherworldly compared to the physical world we live in.
This stripped-down approach extends to the audio as well. Most of the silence is filled with Dr. Young talking to you, and her actress does a good job of portraying the calm, collected yet soothing tone that most therapists employ when dealing with traumatized patients. Some ambient noises like faint echoes and wind rushing through an empty abyss can be faintly heard to give the impression you’re in an endless virtual void. Sometimes audio cues are integrated into the gameplay, where you’ll be advised by Dr. Young to find a familiar sound from your memories, such as birds chirping, to advance onward. There's one piece of 1950s-style music present on certain levels, but saying any more would be a spoiler. What can be said is that the audio perfectly matches the mood of the game, kept simple yet highly effective at conveying the sense of delving deep into one’s own personal thoughts.
Repressed also excels at providing genuinely creative puzzle-based gameplay to go with its enticing narrative and atmosphere. The controls are very simple, with the standard WASD keys used for movement and the mouse to pan the camera and interact with objects. The game doesn’t list it in the options but you can hold shift to run, which is handy given how large and open the levels can be. You can also play with a gamepad if you prefer.
Continuing the established theme of light versus shadow, the main gameplay revolves around you controlling not a tangible character but rather a shadow projected on the ground. This is in keeping with the notion of reliving past events in one’s life through therapy, as the patient isn’t physically present in those memories anymore, merely acting as a shadow of their past self. The goals are straightforward, usually tied to some specific memory introduced at the start of a level, with key story-related details marked in red so they stand out as waypoints against the white and black landscape. As you progress toward them, you’ll need to solve puzzles that involve avoiding shadows until finally, near the end of each level, you and Dr. Young will have pieced together the whole picture about that particular event.
Your shadow avatar must use lit paths to avoid walking into shadows, which results in this game’s version of dying – even the thinnest line of shadow results in death. Though failure can happen at any moment, the levels are littered with hidden checkpoints that will instantly restore you without much loss of progress. So, while it’s easy to “die,” it’s not particularly punishing and indeed may even prove helpful. There’s an instance early on where a checkpoint is on a hard-to-reach platform below the main level, and if you miss it in freefall (which is easy to do), you’ll respawn on said platform anyway and the level continues onward while Dr. Young assures you that failure isn’t the end in this experience.
While it starts out fairly easy, the game gradually introduces a good number of mechanics that play around further with the idea of shadows. At first it simply requires that you pan the camera around your avatar at different angles to find paths that may be hidden in shadow, but soon more advanced elements are introduced. These include rotating whole pieces of the level so that a traversable white pathway becomes accessible, or even moving the level's light source around in any 360-degree direction, which causes shadows to grow or fade depending on the angle. One of the most creative puzzle types involves the idea of depth, with shadows projected on multiple layers of ground. If, for example, you stand over a platform's edge, part of your shadow will sometimes appear on the platform below, where it can interact with otherwise unreachable switches, allowing for long-distance puzzle solving.
Although it might seem overwhelming at times, there was never a moment in this game when I felt totally stumped. Instead, it fully succeeded in putting my mind to the test by playing around with angles and manipulating light and shadow to make a clear path.
The game also has twenty optional collectibles in the form of memories. They’re hidden well enough but they’re marked in red as well, so if you comb each level entirely you should be able to find most of them with relative ease even on a first playthrough. While they aren’t needed to reach the game’s ending, they offer additional flavour text based on the protagonist’s life experiences and can be viewed anytime in the main menu under the “Memory Palace” option. Given how story-heavy the experience is in reliving key moments of the victim’s life, more context about certain things was much appreciated. The entire game can be finished in a single two-hour sitting, so this adds a little extra incentive to be thorough.
Overall, Repressed is a short yet satisfying adventure filled with intriguing shadow-based gameplay, stark but appealing black-and-white visuals, and a surprisingly deep and emotional story about dealing with traumatic life experiences. Anyone who enjoys environmental puzzlers will likely appreciate what’s here, and the biggest disappointment may simply be that there isn’t more of it to enjoy.