Death. It isn’t something that video games generally tend to take too seriously or put too much focus upon, except for a quick stop to your session before promptly respawning over and over again. There’s no long drawn out death scene with a glimpse of how the character in your control is feeling or what’s going on in their mind. But I digress slightly. Imminent death is however the real driving force behind one of the newest games set to hit the Xbox Store – In Between. There will be doom and gloom but can this puzzling platformer deliver a balance between an engaging game and an emotionally charged story?
It’s always great to see developers try something different, and Gentlymad have decided that tackling the process of dealing with the big C, cancer, is the way to do that. The main protagonist has received a deadly diagnosis of the disease and In Between follows the latter stages of his life, whilst he’s going through a whole range of emotions. As a gamer we get thrown into his head, learn about his life being thrown into turmoil and the memories of years gone by.
There’s no doubt on a storytelling level it feeds the player enough little snippets here and there, whether that’s via narration or the brilliantly drawn scenes, to keep the interest in what’s going on. It’s all rather depressing but that’s a part of life and without ruining too much, by the end I felt for the guy. It gave me goosebumps with the enlightening and thought provoking dialogue that capped off a touching journey. I was almost reaching for the tissues.
This is a video game though, there’s only a certain amount of onus that can be placed on the narrative and so, the true deciding factor on whether In Between is a worthwhile experience comes down to the gameplay. As mentioned already, you’ll be inside the main character’s head and tasked with solving over 60 gravity defying puzzles along the way.
The game itself has a basic goal to each level – just get the protagonist from the starting position to an exit. Gravitational control will have a say in how you get there and the only ability you have is to change its direction between the regular downwards pull, upwards, left and right. Doing this will allow you to reach the highest heights, navigate through gaps safely and avoid any darn spiked obstacles from killing you off.
Each chapter covers a stage of coming to terms with the diagnosis, ranging from denial to acceptance and a healthy dose of anger somewhere in between. As you progress through these chapters, new mechanisms will be thrown into the mix to ensure that spikes aren’t the only hazardous things on the horizon. Every new idea completely changes the way you approach the levels, with utter darkness spreading over the area being one of them; where moving fast away from it and occasionally chasing it away go hand in hand.
Other changes include moving spotlights which add a whole load of emphasis on timing to get from A to B and anger hot spots that shouldn’t be touched. Easily the best and craziest chapter gives you a second screen with a mirrored, spirit looking version of the main character that you’ll need to merge with the original. Remembering that all movements are opposite on the other side is the hardest part; I sent the spirit to its death numerous times by purely forgetting to take that into account. Anger set in but as always with a good puzzle, the euphoria of success always outweighed the frustrations.
One of the very few drawbacks involves the general design all the levels. Stripping back all the additional features that change the gameplay, the visuals stay the same and the eyes do get a tad bored of them if I’m honest. It’s just a good job that the layouts are all very different and the puzzles are challenging enough to prevent it being too much of a hindrance.
In Between takes a horrible disease and turns the focus wonderfully onto the person having to deal with it, thus creating a depressing yet enlightening experience which gets perked up by the enjoyment of puzzle solving. It sounds grim but for some reason it works and by the end I was genuinely impressed with the last trick up Gentlymad’s sleeve.
If you love puzzle platformers and fancy getting all emotional along the way then the In Between journey ticks all the boxes.