In the first of many, my good colleague (David Pinar) and I have decided to play and provide coverage for every single free to play title on Steam. First up is The Plan.
Xerin: Art games are always so difficult to write about because they're more about the message than the mechanic. The mechanic exists only to show you the message, nothing more or nothing less. There is no point to say that an art game doesn't have enough features or the gameplay isn't fun as long as the message is given. The Plan gives us a message and gameplay that is relaxing and apropos. The message is clear, it's a game that makes you take a few seconds to think about life, the journey, and death - a common theme in art games. They show us the connection between the short lifespan of the fly and our very own Human condition. What does it mean to exist? What do we do when we travel the road of life? What is at the end? These questions get us to think, which in turn gives us a clear and concise message qualifying it as not only an art game and immune from the ramblings about gameplay.
Sure, there is no replay. There is no game. There is nothing, but music and visuals and some time alone to think and contemplate on some of the tougher questions in life as the game acts as a window into the soul. I would easily argue that the game is work a glance for anyone who doesn't mind games as art and wants to take a second to see more in online media than just another platform to kill ten bears and collect their fur. While there is no interaction but pushing a few keys, the visual and psychological element is what makes this to me an intriguing few minutes of the day.
Lewis: It really is a strange one, isn't it? It does however sum up exactly why were working our way through the Steam free to play list: to discover something different, that anyone can participate in. What springs to mind for me is when is a game, not a game? Realistically, there's nothing here. You climb from the forest floor into a never ending sky, battling against the elements only a fly would face: spiders, leaves and wind. Its all very whimsical and pointless and yet if there's one thing that struck me about the game, it's the use of sound. If you were to close your eyes and simply listen, it's unquestionable that you'd feel something as a result of what you're hearing. I think from that perspective, the game is much more audio based than it is visual. While the visuals look great and the fly and its painterly surroundings are well realised, its the audio that brings the whole thing to life.
What I always find fascinating about games such as this, is what is their purpose? What is the developer attempting to achieve? What does he want the user to feel or experience, or is all that irrelevant? Theres a pretentiousness here, wrapped up in something entirely pointless and yet in a way I still found myself flying higher and higher. Would you honestly come back to it?
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Xerin: Art games do not have a finite objective beyond "expanding thought." The idea here isn't so much the an achievement or a finish line, but a discussion. Games do not have to say this is how you play it and this is how you win it. There can be more to a game than actual physical combat and leaderboards. It's why MMOs are so fun, right, because the social aspect doesn't have borders. There is nothing that dictates how people interact with each other in a game beyond how they utilize the game mechanics and the discussions involving such. So for instance, you can decide to band together with however many people to go and do however many varied tasks and trade whatever items you wish or none of the previous and sit in town and roleplay you're a bartender. It's all an organic experience and in this way games like this cater to our lust for something that doesn't have walls - free thinking.
I enjoy the audio aspect of it as well, but the visuals worked for what it was trying to display. The mouth of the critter was disturbing though and I don't think it was that way on purpose.
Lewis: It's definitely an organic experience and one that relies entirely on your own drive. I can imagine many people booting up The Plan, thinking "what the hell is this?" and closing the game down. I think however that would be a real shame as although there isn't a game here, in the traditional sense, it stimulates something a little different that gamers are typically used to. I like the fact it's exploring something different from a sight and sound perspective. Yes it's odd and quirky and perhaps I'm alone in this, but I did scratch my head several times to trying to nail down what the purpose was. The not truly knowing is at odds with my OCD and that leaves me slightly uncomfortable but in a good way.
All in all then, a bold, distinctly different and oddly pleasing start to our Steam free to play marathon.