11 Oct 2011

REVIEW: Retention

Two ponderous indie adventures, both focusing on recovery from physical and mental trauma, in one month. Anyone would think this site had an agenda; a reflective, soul searching agenda.

Retention is a little hard for me to describe, primarily because it’s barely a game in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a sequence of events, a scattering of snapshots. You click through pictures - memories - laid before you and ten-and-a-half minutes later the experience ends. Did you do it in the correct way? Did you win, or perhaps save the world? The interpretation of any of the eight endings available is misty at best.

Ambiguous doesn’t even begin to describe this game. But let me have a go.

Before play begins you’re given a prologue that explains the protagonist’s position. Here is a man who lives his life without a moment to spend looking back at what he’s experienced. He never stops. As such, he has no memories, or at least he attributes very little value to his memories. After taking a tumble from his bicycle one day he loses everything and, in an effort to hold onto his past, it’s up to the player to help him correctly rediscover the events of his life.

This isn’t a simple case of storytelling through a linear set of prompts. From this point onwards you’re presented with hundreds of pictures, three at a time, often with no tangible relationship from one to the next. Well, apart from cats. There do seem to be a lot of cats.

You start at the end - or rather, you seem to work your way backwards from the time of the accident. However, you can choose to view the photos in any order you like and you don’t appear to be required to select them all, only those with significance in the particular story you’re trying to tell.

Something is definitely going over my head here. I’ve played it five times and only on my last turn did I succeed in grouping together a coherent set of memories. The rest of the time I failed in exactly the same way. ‘I can’t remember who I was...’ says the game and there’s little I can do to correct that. Even when I did succeed in recovering everything, I still had no idea how I arrived at victory.

is a strange one then. It’s like nothing I’ve ever played before and I’m not entirely sure whether I’ve played it still, despite sinking about an hour of my time into its strange world. It’s both baffling and mesmerising, but I can’t say that I didn’t in some respect enjoy my time with it. Just leave your preconceptions at the door, along with your sense of logic, and you’ll probably be fine.

No comments: