The distinguished and well-renowned author Franz Kafka who wrote classics like The Trial, The Castle and, of course, The Metamorphosis once commented: “I usually solve problems by letting them devour me“. Those words should give you some idea about the tone and feel of some of his works – work that fuses elements of realism and the fantastic to create sometimes bleak visions of the world and the bureaucratic nature of us humans. It is this idea which has now become the inspiration of Metamorphosis on Xbox One – a game where you are thrown into a surreal world, and left to play through the story as an insect. Are you ready to be devoured?
Metamorphosis starts with you waking up one morning in your bedroom, viewing the world around you in the first-person. You walk around the room, examine some objects, find a key to the front door and then walk down a corridor admiring the photographs on the wall. But then the people in the pictures start to take on a more insect-type feel to them. And then things get weirder still as you start to get smaller and smaller, as the world shrinks and you become an insect yourself, discovering your voice is changing into some gravelly nonsense. It’s all very confusing and one hell of a morning.
While you are coming to terms with being an insect, your friend Joseph is being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. It is here where you have to delve into the world of the real and unreal, taking things in from an insect’s perspective to try and get back to human form, negotiating with the insect world, and trying to prove your friend’s innocence. The story and writing are excellent using Kafka’s works from a few novels as its major influence. The world underneath our land is a wicked one, full of insects that are film directors, mobsters and terribly efficient bureaucrats. The whole world is a wonder to walk about and explore.
The gameplay is set in the first-person, delivered with a mix of platforming, puzzle-solving, exploration, and some good old-fashioned chatting to bugs in order to dredge up some information. As the insect, you are presented with the miniature world or level you are currently in, and it’s up to you to work out how to get from one side to the other, taking in objectives as you go. There is a handy overview in the form of an aerial view of the map that allows you to see where to go when you get lost.
Moving as an arthropod is as fast and furious as you might imagine. You see two little legs scattering along at pace as the miniature weird world around you opens up. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, and at times it comes across as a bit of a head spin with the unique perspective, but it doesn’t take long before you get used to the moving around. You can clamber up onto objects too, at times needing to climb up vertical obstacles – it is here where sticky lubrication that you find lying around in the form of glue or mustard comes to the fore. This will give you the opportunity – for a limited time – to climb up and over obstacles. Just don’t try to walk upside-down.
There isn’t any combat to be had in Metamorphosis, with the game instead leaving you to try and solve a myriad of puzzles. Thankfully these aren’t tricky enough to break your mind and are relatively fun to take in. Interaction with other insects is also good; having a chat before heading off onto a new task is always pleasant enough. There’s nothing groundbreaking though, just the usual mission structures that us gamers know and love. Metamorphosis does get a bit lost at times however, especially when the journey isn’t as focused – something that occurs in the open-world areas towards the third act. Some of the platforming elements become annoying too. Many times I’ve been left with the feeling that luck has played more of a part in any success than my own skill.
Visually the game is very charming, yet utterly surreal at the same time. It’s always extremely satisfying to see any world be presented in miniature form, and this is true here. Sailing boats made from sticks, utilising a paper certificate as the sail, an underground gentlemen’s club hidden in the working of a gramophone – its little touches of the world underneath ours are superbly created and executed. It’s hammered home more when you see humans interacting in the background – it’s all brilliantly crafted. There are some really strange moments in play too, ones in which the world distorts and the places you visit become altogether weirder. Thankfully it all works perfectly.
The soundtrack delivers a brooding score that complements the action well, while the voice acting of the humans delivers whole swathes of dialogue in the background. I’ve got absolutely no complaints here as they are delivered to perfection. The strange guttural insect noise and language is another great piece of sound design.
Metamorphosis is a game that has a truly original concept even though it’s based on the source material of an early 20th-century Czech novelist. It feels like a game that has been designed with passion, creativity, and love throughout. This is reflected in the story, the visuals, and the whole notion, however I have found the gameplay to – at times – be a little bit frustrating and the open-world areas sometimes lose focus when considered in the overall telling of the tale. The game will take you around three hours to complete if you wish to rush through, and that means the price asked does seem a little too high, especially when you consider the overcrowded marketplace that is present on Xbox One. But if you’re after something truly original and unique with a great concept and fascinating take on a Kafka story, then take a trip into the unknown with Metamorphosis.