Review for The Shattering
Your eyes start to feel heavy, as you listen to the sound of my voice. You begin to feel drowsy as I count down from 3… 2… 1… and you fall asleep.
Hopefully, you won’t fall asleep reading this review, but that is how Super Sexy Software’s first game The Shattering starts off, a first-person psychological thriller that takes you down into the dark abyss of a man’s lost memory and mind, as he tries to figure out what devastating, life-changing event it was that caused him to lose everything.
You play as John Evans, a writer who you learn early on has experienced some kind of traumatizing event, and he has lost all memory of it. Through therapy sessions with Dr W. Richards, your main objective is to find out what has caused you to lose your memory, and to live through John’s repressed memories from his past, all the way back from his painful childhood and up to the present.
The Shattering is a story-driven interactive thriller, with a heavy focus on narrative and no puzzles. As you navigate through the different locations where you can pick up and look at almost everything, you start to slowly piece together John’s shattered mind to uncover the truth. With beautiful graphics, although often very surreal and at times horrifying, you are being guided through the dark memories from John’s depressing childhood at an orphanage, following his teenage years at a mental hospital, further to where he falls into heavy alcoholism in his career as a writer, and eventually up to the point where he meets his future wife.
Sensitive souls beware though, this is not a game for the weak-spirited. It deals with heavy and depressing themes such as suicide, mental illness and alcohol abuse, and it is not without disturbing scenes and emotional distress. In fact, the game is so dark that I needed to take some breaks over longer periods of time before I could pick it up again, and I consider myself pretty tough-skinned. If you’re looking for a light-spirited gaming experience with a happy conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend playing this game; the warning at the beginning of the game is to be taken seriously.
This might not apply to everyone, but I also experienced quite a bit of motion sickness after playing for longer periods at a time, due to the free first-person navigation. Unfortunately, there aren’t any options to reduce motion blur.
Motion sickness aside, The Shattering is a truly beautiful game, and the aesthetics with white and gray are absolutely stunning. Often, a small pop of colour is used to highlight an interactive item or something of significance, and it makes for a unique visual and artistic style. The locations are really detailed and intricate, and I could have spent hours opening drawers and looking at things in John’s childhood home. Later, when you get to unpack and move into John and his girlfriend’s new home, it is truly a beautiful and believe it or not, fun experience.
Though pretty to look at in the beginning, all of these settings turn from charming and appealing to nightmarish and grim, getting increasingly worse as you close in on the truth about John’s mental breakdown.
Another truly great element of the game is the audio. From beautiful piano music, to eerie humming and old jazz classics, the music adds to the atmosphere and overall feel, complemented by the voice acting, which is also well-performed. All the characters such as Dr Richards and John’s wife are very well-played, and together with the brilliant music it really adds to the overall atmosphere and quality.
I don’t think “walking simulator” is a good description for games like The Shattering, as it just doesn’t sound accurate; I would consider it an interactive story instead. You don’t solve any puzzles in this game, nor are you required to structurally overcome any action challenges, with the exception of two occasions where you have to run for your life, and if you fail, you have to try again.
The game is mostly based on roaming through different locations, looking at and interacting with things such as keys and your typewriter. Other objectives could be to choose between ink blot sheets, and to clean up a room and find toys, but these are not very interesting tasks, as they feel almost menial. The most challenging task was a math puzzle on a blackboard, and somehow I don’t think that it really mattered which answer was chosen for the story’s progression. For a game of around 4 hours, although intriguing, it certainly wasn’t a challenge, maybe other than an emotional one.
The only thing that can have an impact on the game’s outcome is how you answer certain questions the good doctor asks you. Depending on your answers, you will get one of two different endings, and they are both worthy conclusions to an otherwise well-made narrative.
Even though The Shattering deals with some heavy themes like mental illness and different types of abuse, it is a well-written story that gives you a glimpse into a man’s shattered mind as he desperately tries to make sense of it all. Playing the game was almost like reading a thought-provoking story, and I would definitely recommend others to do the same.