From solo indie developer Jason Godbey comes The Search, a narrative puzzler created in Unity about a woman journeying through a strange land in order to discover the meaning of her reality. Trapped in a world where art comes to life and creativity is the only limit, the unnamed protagonist is guided along the way via many cryptic letters left to her by an unapparent individual.
The Search plays like an old point-and-click graphic adventure game from the 1990s. Using environments rendered in Unity, players can navigate the world by selecting the edges of the screen while also investigating objects by clicking on them. Using this, they can solve puzzles and progress by gathering certain objects together such as a blank canvas, brushes, as well as a camera and lighter that is used to bring the paintings to life.
Whilst it works fine on a technical level, with a low-spec hardware pre-requisite and easily accessible playstyle, gameplay is not the focal point of The Search. In fact its puzzle elements feel incredibly lacking compared to the thought put into the other essentials such as narrative, audio and visual effects. The entire game takes about forty minutes to complete, including multiple endings, and would take an hour at the most if you went searching for the extra notes and collectibles that add some depth to the world you’re exploring.
The narrator – voiced by the talented Cissy Jones (Life is Strange, Firewatch) – convinces you of the game’s partiality for sophistication at the cost of alienating the player. Many aspects of dialogue are delivered via riddles, questions and quotations. This is ultimately the weak point of The Search, as much of the game’s narrative feels more like a lecture from the developer and leaving very little subjectivity for the player to digest. It’s the problem with this trend for creating surreal interactive experiences based on the creator’s own life.
While that works in other mediums such as film and television, creating experimental narratives can be harder to achieve in an interactive form due to the unpredictable outcomes that derive from player agency. Surrealism can work well for games such as Antichamber and The Stanley Parable, where non-linear experiences don’t exclude the player but instead welcome them to investigate and trial the limits of that world, but The Search’s narrative is so personal and objective that the player can be left feeling alienated by their perceived lack of freedom that it comes off as pretentious.
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
For an hour-long experience, the main thing I took away from The Search were cheap puzzle mechanics and quotes by American lecturer Joseph Campbell. If the game’s main themes were not as openly sermonising, then I could see the narrative being less tedious and players would get more out of it. But sadly, the extent of the story would have been much better suited as an essay, short film, or poem.