Video games have always suffered with confusing titles: Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel, Immortals Fenyx Rising feels like it is missing a colon, and let’s not even start with Kingdom Hearts. The Pillar: Puzzle Escape is no exception either; what follows the colon in this title implies a claustrophobic escape room experience. But whilst the levels are small, The Pillar is a good bit of serene escapism, if only for a couple of hours.
The Pillar instantly feels very reminiscent of The Witness and Myst. As an unknown protagonist you are thrust into a first-person view of a strange yet familiar world. Familiar in the sense that the sky is blue and the grass is green, but this isn’t a place on this planet. There is no story to speak of, but you can’t help but feel part of a bigger narrative regardless. Without doing too much, the world you inhabit is a wonderful place to explore.
To progress in The Pillar, you need to solve the puzzles. The vast majority of these take place on grids either on the side of a wall or door, or on the side of tall, purple crystal pillars that protrude from the surface when required. At first I wasn’t sure how to take these crystals; the way the sprout up is a bit threatening, but they are simply there to test your mental prowess. Sometimes the puzzle will require you to match coloured pegs to each other in a line or light up specific squares in a grid using something in the environment as a reference. The trickiest ones require you to memorise a set pattern of squares and then repeat the pattern.
There are also some environmental puzzles where you can pick up pieces of a painting to form a complete picture, or search an area for a four-digit code to input elsewhere. Best of all with these codes is that they are randomly generated each time you start a level; don’t you go trying to be clever and searching online for the solution.
Some later puzzles also incorporate light beams and portals – all very much standard puzzling tropes that shouldn’t require too much head scratching.
The puzzles are very much on the easy side of things, but The Pillar isn’t a game designed to frustrate you with overly complicated solutions. Instead, the gentle gameplay, relaxing soundtrack and pastel colours has an overtly calming effect. Soft piano and woodwind sounds play over delightfully picturesque landscapes. Graphically, it won’t terrorise your Xbox One nor Xbox Series X performance – and the draw distance is almost non-existent – but it is a pleasant and serene environment.
One puzzle did have me stumped completely, but this was due to a minor bug causing the game to not trigger the next phase. After a quick restart of the level, it worked perfectly from then on.
There is, however, a lot of stuff that isn’t mentioned. Some of this is deliberate, and with no direction you are left to work out the puzzles for yourself. But other stuff feels like an omission of sorts, such as not informing players of the controls. It wasn’t until over halfway through my time with The Pillar: Puzzle Escape that I realised there was a sprint option; something that comes in handy during backtracking sessions. Nor is it communicated that on certain puzzles the shoulder buttons can help you switch between starting points, allowing you to choose an easier one.
You are also graded on your performance during levels, out of 100%. Your best performance will appear below the level on the level select screen, where you can replay to your heart’s content any that you have completed. Again though, how exactly it is scored remains a mystery. It doesn’t appear to be related to the number of puzzles solved, because in order to progress every puzzle needs to be completed.
These scores also tie into several of The Pillar’s 13 achievements. On certain levels you need to score over 70% for an achievement, as well as complete the pieces of art that can be found throughout. The Pillar offers an easy 1000G for achievement hunters out there, and it can be all wrapped up before actually finishing the game. Out of the eight levels in total, only the first five have achievements associated with them.
For a few short hours The Pillar: Puzzle Escape on Xbox will completely transport you away. It is easy to get sucked in thanks to the serene environment combined with the first-person perspective. A lack of story does not matter: this is a place begging to be explored. It offers some gentle puzzle solving, a calming aesthetic and, perhaps most importantly, some easy Gamerscore; if you are that way inclined. In times like these, The Pillar is a welcome distraction, easing your troubles away whilst making you feel smarter in the process.