Staring awkwardly into The Void
Iwanted to return to as what was once an idiosyncratic experience now feels like it belongs to a trend. There were weird games before The Void, of course. But there’s something specific here – an interest in exploring the inner life of a person, and specifically a compulsion to let the player enter a dialogue with their own values, and even more specifically a decision to express this with bursts of colour, that I reckon we can identify as a theme. In a good way!
You’ve died, and your soul lingers in, well, the Void, an expanse of beautiful, dreamlike and uniformly bleak environments that span a stickily organic web of underworld. In these environments your task is to find and manipulate liquid colour, transforming it within your own body into a tool that you can use to grow gardens, attack creatures and defend yourself. Each colour represents some aspect of selfhood, and each has its own voice. There are echoes of the ace upcoming RPG Disco Elysium, here, as well as Torment: Tides of Numenera.
There’s a lot to unpack and discover. There are creative monster designs and ahead-of-their-time acts of design sleight of hand. Despite a slow start and a willingness to force you to retread areas, discovering how
The Void’s systems work – how to take best care of your gardens, how to manipulate monsters and how to plan your use of colour from chamber to chamber – has, dare I say it, a Dark Souls- ian appeal. As such, this is a game that feels destined to elicit gushing testimonials from critics who have grown performatively weary of the norm – particularly a few years ago, when indie was only barely a thing and art games even less so. Hell, I feel that way about it, at times. But I get frustrated by it, too.
BIT OF BLUE
Here’s the problem: I don’t know why the Void is full of naked women. I’m not sure why the counterpart to its monster faction – the hulking, imaginatively conceived Brothers – are uncanny valley-adjacent Sisters who reward donations of colour with a bit of sexy existential dancing. Except, you know what, I know
exactly why. And this isn’t an argument against sex or nudity in art
or in games, but an argument for sex and nudity that means something. And I’m not convinced that The Void works, in this regard, because its Sisters feel like they’ve been plucked from some pubescent extremity of the Unity Asset Store. They are unforgivably ordinary in a game that elsewhere delivers anything but – like encountering Michael McIntyre at the bottom of Pan’s Labyrinth. Except now that I think about it that sounds like some undiscovered new frontier of horror, and this isn’t.
The Void, for me, stands up as an example how naive games can be even when they’re being smart – and a warning about the temptation to write off missteps when a game has ideas you want to celebrate. They stapled a FHM centrefold to a Dali painting! Why did they do that?
The Void, for me, stands up as an example how naive games can be
I can’t stress enough how good the rest of the art is.