Much like a GCSE English Literature poem, A Fold Apart features many themes that aren’t necessarily apparent on the surface. These deeper understandings aren’t required to fully enjoy the game, but they bring along a much more relatable experience for those that can pick them out.
A Fold Apart tells the tale of a couple going through a tough time as one of them goes to work away from home for a year, as an architect on an exciting new build. Their spouse is left at home with nothing but their feelings and a mobile phone. From there, it plays out as a puzzle game that revolves around folding paper landscapes to help the couple navigate their environment and try to understand their emotions.
First off though, you need to choose your couple; gender and sexual orientations are fully taken into account as you have a choice of four couples to take on your journey. Being inclusive in this way should always be the case.
With six chapters in total, A Fold Apart takes your couple on a journey, mainly through their own thoughts to try and understand them. Each chapter opens with the couple texting each other general chit chat as they would do being in different timezones, before a misplaced word or phrase from one of them causes the other to misread the text and enter a depressive state. During these trying times, this is where the puzzles occur that will need to be completed in order to progress.
The puzzles themselves are very cleverly designed through simply folding the landscapes the couple are walking through, yet surprisingly remain fresh and original throughout. Early stages will only allow puzzles to be folded along one axis, but towards the end of the game you are trying to figure out what to do on three axes plus the ability to rotate the landscapes 90 degrees at a time. It’s a very simple concept, but it is one that has been done extremely well.
When you do unlock the ability to fold diagonally as well as orthogonally, it does get a bit fiddly on the controller. In fact, the whole control scheme has been poorly utilised. You have the ability to move blocks in certain puzzles, but the buttons chosen feel counterintuitive to other times you have moved blocks in games. Also, when rotating the landscape, the controls do feel slightly more complicated than they perhaps could have been.
By folding the landscapes, you can bring platforms and ledges that were normally out of the way into usage for the couple. It plays with your perception in the same way that Fez did; it’s a 2D side-scroller at heart, but by folding the landscapes you can completely alter the way the level plays out.
Some later puzzles can also prove a challenge, so thankfully there is a hint system. Though I’m not sure it should be called a hint system, as rather than providing hints it goes through the puzzle step-by-step, without any limitations.
When not participating in the puzzles, the interactions between the couple feel very human-like, perhaps in a way I haven’t felt since first playing Firewatch. There is a natural chemistry between the characters that feels very relatable. At certain points when communicating to each other via text message, you can choose the reply you want to give – usually a choice between a sarcastic comment and a more solemn one – this doesn’t affect the story in any way but it is still a lovely touch that gives everything an even more humane feel.
Of course, when words from one character are misinterpreted by the other, we get a sort of deep dive into their psyche. There then appears this internal monologue of how they are or are not coping with the current situation. For the member of the couple working from home, they just want to make sure their intentions for taking this job aren’t misconstrued; for the other, they primarily don’t want to be forgotten. Once again it is incredibly relatable for anyone that has ever been in a relationship and had to spend time apart from the one they love.
Perhaps the one criticism that can be given to A Fold Apart is the over-reliance on this misinterpretation. Throughout the six chapters this method is used every time to then bring on the puzzle section, and by the end of the game you can even pick out which text message will be the one that halts the conversation the couple are having.
But without these breakdowns in communications, it would still be very apparent when things have taken a turn for the worse thanks to the wonderful art style and colour pallete used. The monologues the characters have when contemplating their situation fit with the environment perfectly, and even when you start rotating the landscapes the latest thoughts they are having will always appear the correct way around to read. Not only is this a brilliant design feature but it makes you appreciate how well the puzzles have been designed, so that the developers have figured there is only one solution to each, and that you as the player won’t miss a single word of internal dialogue.
And whilst the ending and final puzzle is predictable, even when you see the final screen it is still immensely satisfying.
There are ten achievements in total in A Fold Apart, and there are none missable. It will only take around two hours to complete the story, but once you are finished you will have experienced a wonderful example of storytelling with a nice 1000G to boot.
A Fold Apart on the Xbox One is a wonderful love story wrapped up in a very well-designed puzzle game. It’s an incredibly relatable game for anyone that has ever spent any time away from a loved one, or someone who has to deal with internal demons on a regular basis. And for those that haven’t, you could well learn a thing or two here about mental health in general. It seems that the developers at Lightning Rod Games have thought of everything too, from the solutions to the puzzles down to even the orientation of the couple you want to play as. And despite that short length, it feels perfectly paced.