Causality is a frustrating little puzzle game. Each level consists of guiding one or more astronauts to an exit that matches their colour, but the kicker comes with the limited freedom it gives you -- each level must be completed within the allotted time frame, which prevents any sort of experimentation and testing and instead doubles down on following the rules. It’s an oppressive, narrow minded approach to puzzle-solving that should be steered clear of if one values thinking.
Causality’s supposed differential comes from it’s dabbling in Time Travel and cause and consequence. Such a subject is at best theoretical, and therefore lends itself greatly to experimentation -- the potential of setting things in motion or rewinding and testing outcomes differently is inherent to the causal manipulation of space-time. Here, however, the developers don’t expect you to think, they do not want you to try creative approaches for solving a puzzle, or to think outside established rules and figure out new causes to achieve your desired effect; they only want you to follow their rules and finish each level in one and only way: the way they envisioned it.
This limited approach to puzzle-solving renders the game into a sluggish process of trial and error, that quickly outstays its welcome. While players are able to freely advance or rewind time, they cannot move the astronauts or anything else, and their only physical contribution to the game world is through rotating little direction tiles. To say this is simple and unsatisfying would be an overstatement -- you often feel relieved that the mission is over instead of satisfied you completed a puzzle.
Things are made worse by the fact the gameplay never offers much depth -- you have a small variation of puzzles that compounds on the utter lack of freedom, creating a stale and straightforward experience that might as well be on-rails or a series of cutscenes. Causality clearly doesn’t understand what made games like Portal or The Talos Principle so enjoyable -- the right balance of difficulty and testing along with the freedom to explore the solutions. Those games allowed you to solve each situation in your own way, even when there was only one right outcome, and they were just hard enough to make you feel triumphant upon completion. Causality, however, binds your hands and feet down and demands you to solve each level solely to its stagnant specification, and I can count on one hand the amount of levels that didn’t left me severely frustrated.
Technically, the game is pretty; the graphics are good, the art design is simple, and the menu is quite nice. The music and sound effects are forgettable, while the performance is quite smooth and mirrors Causality’s undemanding requirements. The controls are fine, and work as intended, but the gameplay feedback representation could be better -- you never quite know when an object will collide with another or not until they actually do.
In the end, Causality is hard to recommend. Although the time travel angle always attracts me, I expect the subject to be respected instead of just a marketing gimmick. I’m a clever man -- I read a lot, I’m remarkably good at science, and I completed this title, as I have many other puzzle games before. My frustration with it is not due to the game’s difficulty -- it is not severely hard at all. The frustration stems from the terrible game design that absolutely bludgeons freedom into a pulp and annihilates any semblance of player choice. This game offers you as much freedom to reach your objective as Ryse: Son of Rome did, and frankly; if you manage to make Time Travel boring, is time to reevaluate how you design games.
Causality (Reviewed on Windows)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
Causality bludgeons freedom into a pulp and annihilates any semblance of player choice, denying any puzzle experimentation and making for one extremely unappealing game.