Two boys are lonely. One has a father who shouts and smashes things and makes his mother scared. Another has a mother who shouts at him for playing music. They live in the same block but they have never met, and now as men, they sit alone. What if you could bring them together? What if you could go back in time and, through some benevolent stroke of fate, ensure they were both on their balconies at the same time and noticed each other? Could it spark a love between friends that would last forever?
This is Love. It’s a game about exploring the lives of people who share an apartment block, a game about playing around with time. And it’s a game about sometimes delivering the fateful nudge two people need in order for their paths to cross. Really, it’s a game about helping people find love.
It works in a very simple way. Before you lies an apartment block. Half of it lies in the past, shown by faded black and white colouring, and half of it lies in the present, shown by colour, and you can change which parts of it are in which by rotating individual floors. Spin them one way to see the boys as children, spin them the other to see them as men. You can also interact with the characters. They don’t do a lot, they tend to sit or stand where they are, but occasionally you can direct them to move somewhere or interact with something, and in doing so, move their stories on.
Stories are presented as photos in an album. You’ll be given a picture of either someone’s past or present, and your job is to fill the missing picture in. A man and woman are pictured at a dinner table in the past, for instance, what are they doing now?
You find them in the building recreating the old photo, and then you spin their apartment block floor around into the present. Now, what do you see? If that alone satisfies the puzzle, the game will update with a new photo to pair to the existing one, past and present, and a part of their album page will be solved. But it won’t always be that easy.
When you’ve filled in someone’s album page of photos, more album pages, and people, appear. Apartments that were unseeable into before will now have people in them and stories to tell and so, bit by bit, the apartment fills up. Stories begin to overlap stories, and eventually you will tie them all together.
Coupled with the subject matter, it’s a beautiful idea, and it’s brought together in such a warm and gentle way. The colours are soft and bright, and there’s a kind of hazy presentation to the world, a slight posterisation, as if it were a dream or a memory of some kind and only partly remembered. And the music is gorgeous. It’s by someone called Neil White, who I don’t know of but wanted to mention, because his dreamy brand of indie folk perfectly amplifies the mood and meaning in the game.
But overall, Love didn’t quite hang together for me. It didn’t get the punch of poignance I expected. It was probably because I got stuck a couple of times and frustration crept in, taking my headspace away from where it needed to be to appreciate a game like this.
I was going round and round trying to find the clue that would move the game-state on, and it was only out of sheer luck I found it. It felt so obscure, so incidental. It actually reminded me of playing old adventure games and exasperatingly clicking everything in the hope something would work.
Love is only a brief experience, and my frustration clouded it for me. And in doing so I think I missed a deeper appreciation of what was going on, and what my role really was in these people’s lives. I thought I was merely observing, and I didn’t realise I was changing their outcomes. I don’t think it was all my fault – I played it again a second time and it was more clear but still murky. I mention it, though, because I don’t want you to make the same mistake.
You have a choice when you play. You can play Love like a puzzle game and twist it idly round and round like a Rubik’s Cube – it feels quite like one – and never go much deeper than the pictures on top. And you will finish it fairly quickly and probably think no more about it. There are better puzzle games out there for fifteen quid.
Or you can take your time. You can look at Love like an observation of life, an observation of how painful it can be when love has gone. How cold it can be when you pass those people who live in the same block and don’t say hello. Then you can start to understand what you’re playing as a celebration of doing something about it; reconnecting. Tying those loose ends back together again. And when you look at it like that, Love can be beautiful.