Developer Super Sexy Software and publisher Deck13 present The Shattering for review. The Shattering aims to be a successful step forward in the vein of first-person exploration gaming. By combing through the memories and feelings of John, the player may reconstruct what happened in his past and heal his battered ego.
The Shattering takes place entirely from a first-person perspective. The story jumps from psychological evaluations in an office to different points in John’s past. There are encounters in school, wrestling with writer’s block, falling in love, and moments that scarred him for life. John progresses through each scene as the player finds what parts of John’s treatment, or memories, to interact with and start piecing him back together. There’s limited deviation available from the primary path and most options are colorized. Most of the rest of the game world is in shades of grey, partly fitting the moral conundrum of what John may have done and also to give the moments that comforted him the most a vitality lacking in the rest of the visuals.
There is one moment in The Shattering where I felt just that. It’s a sudden act of violence on a child that hit far too close to home to my own abuse. What that moment gets to, and the amount of control offered, is how suddenly an existence filled with pain can find new ways of highlighting an already loose connection with fragile states of mind. There’s just enough control to make me think I can get away right up until the moment where I realized I couldn’t. It’s a moment so well executed that I didn’t need to see the act. I could just close my eyes, touch my scar, do my grounding techniques, and fumble around the edges of my defenselessness on the floor of a school shower.
If The Shattering was able to maintain that strength of traumatic storytelling the entire way through it would be almost unbearable. Yet, it would have been unique outside its aesthetic. The problem is that The Shattering doesn’t ever hit that high (or low, perspective depending) at any other point. There are some respectable attempts that are easy to discard because of a mid-to-late game turn toward the mundane.
The Shattering still carries some interest because of that aesthetic. The broad shades of grey do well in capturing the murky ethical stakes of John’s condition. This works especially well in a slyly played through hotel moment where John’s writer’s block is shown to be an excuse for his alcoholism. When color arrives it signals either a point of connection for John, be it to a loving memory or instance of tenderness, or sometimes the literal warmth of a lit candle. The issue with this aesthetic ties back to the story of The Shattering where clues are dangled about what John did with no conclusive answer. When multiple possibilities to a mystery, be it factual or emotional, are presented with equal weight it’s hard to get invested in any perceived outcome.
There’s still the odd sly observation now and then. I also mostly enjoyed the trip through corporate hell where drudgery becomes an imagined fight for survival. But all the goodwill in the world, plus the strength of that shower trauma, could not overcome the pitifully slow way the final acts unfold.
The final act involves the worst planned use of The Shattering‘s “find the thing to manipulate to advance” gameplay. Domestic bliss becomes a horrible hell which could work to The Shattering‘s benefit. The problem is that there is so much that needs to be unpacked (literally, not emotionally, though emotions are involved too) which floats in the air. Problem number one, there are dozens of objects and fragments that float in the air throughout The Shattering and it becomes a pixel hunt in the worst sense of the terms. Second big issue, it far outstays its welcome even in the initial unpacking phase. Following up that tedium by undoing everything done, no matter the aesthetic cracks and flashes of rage, underlines the point so thoroughly the only response I had was – in the immortal words of Monty Python – “Get on with it.”
The Shattering was reviewed using an editor-purchased code for use on the PC via the Steam platform.
When The Shattering ended I was left with one lingering powerful memory, an aesthetic that sought to enhance the moments I connected with it. Unfortunately these were almost entirely drowned out by tedium which went on far too long. That one powerful moment and overall use of the shades of grey approach gives me hope that Super Sexy Software has a staggering work of art ahead of them. The Shattering, for its momentary promise and power, is not that work of art.
- Shades of grey aesthetic sets a question mark by the John's ethical choices and relief when color appears.
- Agonizing tedium for too many stretches where floating objects meld with other floating objects as the narrative grinds to a halt searching for the advance point.
Prognosis is Fair