Eurogamer: The Void Review

By John Walker on November 2nd, 2009 at 7:04 pm.

Colour makes her floaty.

You may have noticed Quintin’s enthusiasm about The Void. It really is a remarkable game, and we’ve certainly not heard the last of the analysis and attention it deserves. Me, however – I didn’t fall in love. Which made it an interesting one to review. Well, you can see what I thought of it over at Eurogamer. Then there’s some new bits and pieces of interest below. It starts like this:

“The Void makes me feel stupid. I’m more daunted by writing this review than I have been by any other. Perhaps not surprisingly, the last time I felt this terrified about writing a game up it was Pathologic, the previous game from Void developer Ice Pick Lodge. This is a game that’s an awful lot smarter than I am. Or perhaps just weirder. See, I don’t know. A review is designed to provide the reader with a description of the game, and then act as a buyer’s guide. This will fail on both counts, since The Void is so far outside of the realms of helpful description that I might as well phone you up and make animal noises at you, and since I honestly couldn’t tell you whether you should buy this or not. Instead let’s fumble along together, and at the end you can decide for yourself.”

Some interesting bits and pieces about The Void have emerged today. In the comments on the EG review, Ice-Pick Lodge developer Alex mentions the Bonus material, a whopping 4GB of goodies to accompany the game available via this (legitimate) torrent. It contains hundreds of pictures, along with videos, music, pdfs and poems. I can’t tell you much more just now as I’m only 5.5% through the download, but those ahead of the game will likely report details below.

Alex also comments on some options being released tomorrow for those – like me – who found it stupendously difficult:

We’ll be releasing cheats tomorrow for those of you, who just want to play for the story, beautiful design and music – no need to push yourself to hard. We overdid it with the difficulty a bit this time. :(

If you’re interested to learn about the differences between the English language game The Void, and the Russian game it was based on, Tension, you can find all those details on the Ice-Pick Lodge forum here. It’s a very honest explanation, including any negative changes that occurred. Well worth a quick read.

Oh, and in the spirit of bonus materials, here are a couple of images I took from the game that make rather splendid desktop backgrounds (icons on the left, of course). One and two.

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65 Comments »

  1. Lars Westergren says:

    Wow, this sounds great. New Weird fantasy – the game. Sold! Um, if I could find where it is sold?

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Amazon.co.uk has it, and they ship to most places in Europe. They specifically don’t ship games to the US though.

    • Sergeminator says:

      I live in the US and I bought it from Amazon.co.uk It arrived really quickly, in less than a week. So you can buy it from there definitely. It also has a great price and the english dub is not british english.

  2. Bandersnatch says:

    Been waiting on my copy to arrive from Mamba-Games, looking forward to giving it a shot.

  3. jsutcliffe says:

    How curious. I saw and read this on Eurogamer moments before this post appeared. It is an interesting review and I am still interested in the game, but I’m also now concerned about the difficulty — I don’t like games to feel like hard work (and don’t like to cheat), but I love games with genuine atmosphere.

    I’m also still hoping a US publisher will pick it up (fat chance) or that it’ll appear on a digital distribution service at some point.

    • Sergeminator says:

      Thanks to the reviews here in rock paper shotgun I found out about this awesome game and ordered it from the UK. To say that this game is revolutionary is an understatement. Its the first time in years that some game shocks me and its not an older idea with a new skin.

      If it wasn’t for the extreme difficulty level I would say this could be the perfect game. Its the first time I feel Im playing some art masterpiece. The good thing is they released the cheats in the developer site and if you apply them moderately you can tune down yourself the difficulty to a medium or even easy depending what you are into.

      Thanks again for the review! you guys rock.

  4. Aldehyde says:

    Seems kind of cool, maybe I’ll pick it up some day.

  5. linfosoma says:

    The review got me VERY interested in the game. But I still dont know that it is.
    Im assuming this is an adventure game right? Does it have still images or is a 3D FPS like Penumbra?

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      Does it have still images or is a 3D FPS like Penumbra?

      It’s a 3d game, though “FPS” probably doesn’t do it complete justice. There are some gameplay videos on Youtube.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      It’s like a FPS, only with some other word in place of “Shooter.”

    • linfosoma says:

      Sounds great then, thanks for the reply.

    • DK says:

      First Person Explorer? First Person Philosopher?

    • Dominic White says:

      First Person Surrealist Spellcaster, perhaps.

  6. Mr Bismarck says:

    Mamba promised their digital download section “in a couple of weeks” in September and it’s still not available, so, unfortunately for Ice Pick, I had to spend my money on Torchlight instead.

    Mamba now suggest their digital service will be available “in November” – no word on if that means the first week or the last though.

    • MD says:

      I know this isn’t the ideal place to ask, but do you (or anyone else) know if Mamba’s download service will allow you to download games you’ve previously purchased a hard copy of (from Mamba)?

    • MD says:

      Without buying it again, of course.

  7. Unaco says:

    Quintin’s earlier enthusiasm got me quite interested in this game, and so I ordered myself a copy around the middle of last week (a third party provider on Amazon worked out cheapest). Got home from the office today and it had arrived. Painless installation, simple configuration, and not too hungry for resources… running smoothly on a 256mb GeForce6800. Not too far in… still in the sort of ‘tutorial’ phase – though it never advertises itself as that, and doesn’t exactly hold your hand through every step – and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The atmosphere is quite unique, visuals are impressive, audio is great(I’ve found myself cranking the volume up, in an effort to catch the occasional whispers that float around you), and the mechanics are quite intriguing. I’ve decided, however, to hold off on reading any more reviews, just so I don’t have anything spoiled for me.

  8. Tom says:

    There a demo?

  9. jsutcliffe says:

    I just watched the trailer on the Mamba Games site. The screenshots/wallpapers of the olour trees dont’ do them justice — they’re beautiful in motion. That is what I want from game graphics. Don’t give me a lifelike real-world environment — I already live in one of those. Give me something fantastic.

  10. Schadenfreude says:

    Heh. I’d only just read John’s Dragon Age review in PCGamer before reading this one. Been having a bad time of game difficulty lately eh? :D

    Personally I wouldn’t be opposed to games getting a bit harder again.

  11. lofaesofa says:

    I ordered it from UK-based play.com and got it a little later than it was first advertised (late October). I died from lack of colour for the first time recently (a few hours in) and I’m expecting a few more deaths as I learn!

    I really like the games’ atmosphere and design. I feel nervous about using colour because it all has negative world effects…

    So far I’m enjoying it and I’m glad I got it. It’s definitely a thinky game.

  12. Zyrxil says:

    Why can’t I buy this game from somewhere less backalley than this Mamba place? Is it that hard for small devs to get their stuff up on Gamersgate or Steam for international distribution?

  13. Andytizer says:

    It’s interesting that they are releasing cheats because what I would really hate to have to reload a save through no fault of my own.

  14. The LxR says:

    More than that, we already released the cheats, and you can find them here: http://forum.ice-pick.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=9044

    @Tom: No demo. Check out the torrent — I think it’ll give you an impression of what you’ll experience more or less.

  15. Gutter says:

    I find it sad that their idea of an easier game is made through releasing cheats :( While I don’t mind playing some game at “Easy”, cheating doesn’t feel the same.

    • The LxR says:

      If you’re talking about us personally — we’re against two things, which are difficulty levels and cheats (ironically) at the same time. But in the current situation, I guess it would be best, even if inexperienced players could enjoy the story, design and music. For the rest – I promised to make a simplification patch, that makes the game a bit more forgiving — which I’m doing in my free time, so be patient. ;o)

  16. Azradesh says:

    Ditto, as long as it’s fair-hard and not cheating-bastard-hard.

    • Psychopomp says:

      While it doesn’t exactly cheat, I can tell you from experience that it’s not all that difficult to get yourself in an unwinnable situation.

      All those autosaves the game makes are your friend, I tell you what.

      @jsutcliffe

      I like to call it a First Person Thingamajigger

  17. Heliocentric says:

    I’m going to wait for a digital version as i can imagine wanting to come back to this in a few years. Sure, gamersgate might be gone in 5 years, but my cd will be broken, i have children. Hell, i only get things on a disc these days when i barely care about them and they are hella cheap or they offer a key for digital distribution ala stardock or value.

  18. Taillefer says:

    My early mistake was not giving enough colour to the trees in the garden, so when I harvested them I hardly got anything back. You’re in a very tricky situation if you do that because I’m not sure if there’s a way to add more colour to it (or change the colour). So, be careful.

    I found something I’m not sure how to interpret yet, but may become clear later. It may be a spoiler so I won’t say what. But it was hidden away and got me thinking.

    Also, screenshots of the first island to inspire people to buy it:
    Screenshot 1
    Screenshot 2
    Screenshot 3

  19. The LxR says:

    @Taillefer: I sure hope you’re not talking about the Companion Cube.
    (Which is there. Seriously. I’m not kidding.)

    • Taillefer says:

      I’ll keep an eye out for it!
      I’m very early in the game, I haven’t spoken to everybody or visited everywhere yet, so it may become clear as to what I found.

      Possibly spoilers or nonsense:
      I just mean the sandpit with the paint pots. I was thinking I’d either stepped into some pocket of reality (and it says a lot about the art direction when reality seems out of place) or it’s some memory of the character, and because of the paint, this would link the character very strongly to the void. So I had various ideas about this link and what the void actually is. But like I said, it’s very early on for me. But it’s nice to have a game that makes me think this way already. Please don’t explain what it is. :P

  20. Gundrea says:

    I preordered this way back when I first picked up on it and it was going direct for that cheap deal of no delivery. It only arrived there last week and I’ve barely played more than a couple of cycles, my time taken up by finishing Risen.

    You only get one chance for a first impression. Well no matter how frustrating the game may get later on, regardless of what horrors or surprises may be sprung on me, The Void’s first impression on me was simply spectacular.

  21. Vinraith says:

    So where would someone in the US go about buying a copy of this?

    • ZIGS says:

      Order from the publisher’s website, http://www.mamba-games.co.uk they ship to the US free of charge!

    • Vinraith says:

      Ah, excellent, thanks ZIGS!

    • Markoff Chaney says:

      Just got mine here in the states from Mamba games yesterday. Took a bit, but well worth it and I can’t complain about the free shipping. I hope to dive into the game later this week, when time for a proper session presents itself.

  22. invisiblejesus says:

    Holy shit… so the actual game looks better than those screenies? I must have. Might wait until it shows up on Gamersgate or Steam or something, but still. Most have.

  23. Dominic White says:

    It really helped that I grew up playing the very first 3D adventures. Freescape stuff, like Driller, Dark Side, Castle Master and such, because those provided a much welcome point of reference. The Void, more than anything, plays like these very first forays into the world of virtual reality. You’re given an alien world to explore, little explanation of anything at first (although instead of having to delve into the manual for backstory, there’s lengthy monlogues aplenty here), and a complete sense of wonder and dread, because you know that you’re going to die.

    Until that time that you don’t, and you find yourself making progress for a while and it feels like you’ve reached another plateau on a huge mountain and it’s goddamn satisfying, and it’s always a much more logical progression than any old Sierra adventure, where advancement is based on developer-mindreading and bizarre leaps of logic. It’s a pretty consistent game – it just happens to be like walking a tightrope, and if you start out wonky then your inevitable fall will be all the more painful and obvious.

    Don’t be afraid to load an earlier game and do something cleaner, more precise. Everything counts, at least in the early game. Later on, things become more combat oriented though and you can breathe a little more freely. A little.

    Oh, this really isn’t a game for people who hate time-pressure. If Dead Rising gave you palpitations, The Void will cause a goddamn stroke.

  24. Turin Turambar says:

    I was also concerned about the difficulty of this game, but i am finding hard but not THAT hard, i am already over half of the game and still going strong.

    Be brave, RPSers.

  25. TheSombreroKid says:

    a quick hint about this game is it’s better at making you feel like a failure than you think, the main reason it feels hard is because quite often it makes you think you’ve screwed up beyond repair when actually you havn’t, not putting enough colour in the trees is a perfect example of this.

    another hint is you the more hearts you fill the faster you die.

  26. Jakob B Rogert says:

    Buy Buy Buy. The first really different and mind-numbingly beautiful, grotesque and bizarre game I’ve played in years. If not because it’s so good (although it’s really leaps beyond pathologic and the basic game mechanics of cultivating gardens, spellcasting and keeping a tight economy while politicking is actually refreshingly well done and far from anything I’ve been doing in games lately), because it provides a new experience.
    Personally I liked the environments the most. To, for once, not have to walk through a barren landscape a.k.a fallout-land from the 90′s, a brown gears-of-war-replica of a city from warhammer 40k or a fantasy goblinfeast, but to explore areas with completely different (and non-gamer-self-referential) cultural influences. This has the added effect that you do not know what’s coming next – what is around the next corner, or what that black seal-like creature will do if you approach it.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    As I said in the comments over at EG i made the horrendous mistake of getting my order of this sent to the wrong address and it ending up at my old house.

    I’m not sure whether to blame the lack of response on them chucking my letter as junk, not actually sending it or the postal strike.

    Quick straw poll – anyone think i should have enough faith in them to send them an envelope with money for a pint and to cover the postage (it’s a student area so I’m 99% sure the house will be full of students) or should i just write the money off and order again?

    • Gnarl says:

      If it is more than likely filled with students, then I’d have a go. I always feel better being stolen from by people almost certainly poor. If you actually receive it then the world has proved better than anyone sensible would have expected. Which is cheering. Acourse, popping down there (wherever ‘there’ may be) would be best. Although with warning, as surprise previous tenants may sometimes offend.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      Ha, slightly too far away for a quick nip round; though it would amuse me to go and visit a few of my mates back in England and tell them I was there for a game and not for them!

      I’m going to give sending the money a go – if it doesn’t work i suppose I can torrent the game without a guilty conscience as I have actually forked out the cash for it. The only thing stopping me doing that in the first place is my preference for having physical copies of games unless I’m buying them in a digital distributor’s sale.

  28. Gnarl says:

    On a more general note, is it likely we might hear other Hivemind opinions? Partially because Mr. Walker is a known Big Girl’s Blouse, but mostly as it sounds as if it might make for interesting pieces. Especially if spoilers were more acceptable, as they tend to be a bit further down the line, when I expect time may be a smidgen more available.

    I mean, without Quinn’s infamous Pathologic novel I don’t think the game would have anywhere near the impact it did when actually playing it.

    (Really, I love blouses. Wore one through most of my senior school life without anyone noticing. Including me. Big one’s could only be better. That’s why I know that sometimes they can be a bit askew as far as representing life’s necessary harsh realities. That’s no bad thing.)

    • jsutcliffe says:

      Now I want to know the story of how you discovered you had been wearing a blouse. Unless you’re a girl, in which case the story wouldn’t be very interesting.

  29. Paul McGee says:

    I actually ordered it from Amazon a couple days ago after going from all the Pathologic articles here to the Void ones. I’m very interested to play it.

    My only concern is that it will be a time sink, and one that is very possible to put you into a completely impeded state, like Pathalogic. I really don’t intend that as a harsh criticism, but something to chew on. Perhaps you believe that quitting a game, either because you unwittingly made a grievous error 6 hours ago or have been not been doing as much as you should, is a valid ending to an experience (or even a strong lesson in something). However, to me both from a development time/money standpoint (even if the urge to reuse content is strong) and more importantly an artistic one, that is completely mad. Even if an ending is just as sudden, and seemingly arbitrary as my example above, the knowledge that it is the intended ending of the author is hugely important in having any kind of merit or confidence in thinking about and considering the experience as a whole.

    I realise that games are inherently longer, and are a lot more difficult to cut between different moments (for want of a better word). Perhaps more importantly that there are certain moods, or experiences that take time to develop (so that they can be flipped or played with for example). However, I strongly believe developers should be thinking about how to boil games to their essences, and cut the extraneous fat both for the audiences sake, and to make a stronger, more lasting impact. Easy good example might be the Half-Life episodes (where, no doubt half the content they created was shelved, with an eye to future) or Masq, whereas games that are artificially pad themselves are dime a dozen. Of course, someone could mention Counter-Strike or Tetris, but I’m mainly talking about authored moment driven, non-emergent games (although, there’s a tangent to be had in things like the multiplayer of Call of Duty and the perk system).

    It’s a shame, but I really think the “value for money” attitude to game length (and incidentally I don’t believe that this is Ice Pick Lodge’s intent in any way, but I’ve been off topic for a while now) is almost holding back a broad knowledge of the medium from most people, and contributing strongly an increasingly inbred, and short-sighted attitude. Where it’s simple to watch many films in one week, not many people have the time to go back to a game if they missed it in the year of release. To take an extreme example, I could roughly watch all 60 or so of Ingmar Bergman’s films (if I ever wanted to) in less time than it would take to reach the end game content of WoW (not to mention actually playing all the quests).

    You might say, games are closer to books, but not many authors can get away with copy pasting chapters and just changing the character names. One of the most commonly touted rule for writing (and rules are made to be broken of course) is to cut any material that is completely, utterly and needlessly superfluous (like those adjectives). All this said, in the last couple of years there seems to be a resurgence in experiences that could be analogous to short stories or even poems (merit aside!), and while this mostly a result of budgets, it gives me hope.

    Sorry for rambling! I’ve been playing a bit of Borderlands recently, and while mechanically it’s solid, and there a a number interesting aspects, the game is just far too slow, and repetitive for me to put much more time into it. I keep coming back to the “MMOs are Unethical” statements of Jonathan Blow.

    This rant isn’t really aimed at Ice Pick Lodge at all, but eh, I just kept typing (and I swear I did edit, and cut a lot of it too!). :D

  30. DMcCool says:

    This is possibly the best thing I’ve ever written on games

    The most important thing about The Void is how the games mechanics triumph over the aesthetic of the game itself. Everything here is designed to make you feel disenchanted, unsure, panicky – “Tension” was a much better title than “The Void” (And “Turgor” one better) yet it’s the game design itself that achieves most of this. Really they work in unison, but we’ve seen horrific art and sound in games countless times before. When was the last time that the mechanics themselves were also truly horrific? Was not the very reason Bioshock failed that once you realized how to kill a splicer (which took about one encounter) even if the music was unnerving as was the art and the architecture, the gameplay (the most important aspect of any game) became warm and familiar.
    Alongside Pathologic, The Void is a horror game that pays proper respect to the art-form of games design. Just as the controls to the PS3′s Flower had to be intuitive and free (and the objectives both obvious and completed out of choice), Ice Pick Lodge knew the tasks set before the player in The Void must always be shrouded in doubt.

    To put it another way, did anyone else play the free version of Peggle that came with The Orange Box? It was a special Half-Life themed pack of levels for the puzzle game, where the mechanics were exactly the same but there were pictures of head-crab zombies in the background. Lets for a moment imagine those pictures were so horrific the game was unsettling to play. Hey, let’s say sometimes the game stops entirely and a zombie appears in the middle of the screen and then goes away before the game continues. Let’s say the music in the background is creepy too. That said the game in every other way is identical to normal Peggle. Is Zombie Peggle now a horror game? No, of course it isn’t, it’s a puzzle game with horrific pictures and music adorning it.
    In the very same sense the later half of Bioshock is no more truly a horror game than Halo or any other first person shooter is.

    Maybe that’s a little unfair. Of course Bioshock IS horrific, but only in a limited sense and actually less than an equivalent horror film with all the same aesthetics. We always have the confidence in our bellies that they’ll be a fight that we know how to win -is not so much horror built upon the uncertainty in the protagonist?

    What The Void does is achieve horror in a way only games are capable of. For that reason anyone who is at all interested in the future of games-design-as-art or anyone who wants to play a game that can offer something no film, book (or most other games) can offer should buy a copy immediately.

  31. Qeyleb says:

    another hint is you the more hearts you fill the faster you die.

    Aha! THAT’s why I’m dying so much now! Thank you!

    Anyone have any other tips? I find I have a lot of trouble getting the Donor glyph right.

    I think I’m walking the fine line between having the impression I’m doomed/screwed (which is enjoyable) and actually being screwed, from choices in the beginning… any thoughts on how to tell if my current game may be too far past recovery?

    • DMcCool says:

      You know how the game is always telling you not to waste colour, that you are using up too much colour? Its not just for dramatic effect. Always be wary of wasting colour by using it in the world and always expect the game to be slightly harder than it appears, would be my advice.
      The game is so designed that you never really leave the fine line you are describing, or at least never know you leave it if you ever do. Isn’t that the fun?

    • TheSombreroKid says:

      the only time you’r past recovery usually is if you’re in a chambre with not enough lympha to get to a chamber with more lympha and/or survive tile the next cycle running on only 1 heart, there are few other times where you’re actually screwed, although it’s hard to say, failing the mine quest seems to mean you’re screwed but the game doesn’t say that and it’s possible i’m overlooking a way out.

    • Halfgild Wynac says:

      I made a video for drawing “alpha” a few days ago. You may consider watching it if you are still experiencing problems. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNf5TYjgoNI

      One more tip is not to waste color on fighting creatures. If you are stil stroking everything you see – hands off! It’s looks kinda perverted, anyways, you splashing liquid from you body on them and this stuff . In fact, you’d better avoid unnecessary fights, because they are nothing but loss of lympha; most chambers are large enough not to bother about the predators too much. Of course, if you are being attacked, it’s better to resist (if you can’t run), but there is not a single reason to actually hunt the monsters that did you nothing wrong and loiter at the opposite corner of the area.

  32. invisiblejesus says:

    OK, super banal question: does the disc version have DRM?

    • Markoff Chaney says:

      No DRM at all, I believe. The LxR should be able to completely verify that, but after install, it didn’t ask for anything and it loads fine with not even a disc check. Beautiful first minutes, before I had to tear myself away.

  33. drewski says:

    Just reading about this game scares me. Not in a woo woo way, but in a “Can I handle this or will I throw it in?” way.

    I must try it.

    • Taillefer says:

      I’m scared of the game progressing because I have no idea what’s to come. I’m trying to feel comfortable where I am, but I know there’s so much more. I fear the void because time passes and will bring things beyond my control. I want to be safe in a chamber on my own, looking at pretty things as I’m slowly being driven mad by the droning music…

      Tension really was the perfect title.

  34. Trezoristo says:

    This sounds like something I’d like to play. I’m going to wait until it’s available digitally. Steam, possibly?

    • Dominic White says:

      The official publisher are going to be doing their own digital distro soon, but in the meantime, they’re doing free international postage.

  35. Mr. Versipellis says:

    Could someone explain to me what the basic gameplay is in this game? i’m thinking of buying it from Amazon; the idea sounds really cool and i love the screenies.

    • Halfgild Wynac says:

      Basically, what you do here, is collecting Colour (in the form of a substance called “Lympha”) as the source of life and energy. It becomes your “hitpoints” which are then converted to “ammo”; to use Lympha, you draw certain symbols on the screen.
      The world (aka “The Void”, they even sound similar) consists of a web of “chambers” (locations in the game are isolated; on the bright side, you never know what to expect, because there is absolutely no need for a smooth transition). The use of Colour brings some profit, but also slowly destroys the area of the Void around a certain node.

      Girls are guarding all the “crossroads” and don’t let you pass until you undress them with colour. As you make your progress in the game, you open more hearts (= more HP and more symbols) and more and more chambers.
      Boys are guarding the Girls and the world in general (from you, so to say). The former are strong and ugly, and don’t like when you undress the latter.

      The ultimate goal is either to escape this weird world or let one of the Girls do this. Both require you to be fully “levelled-up” and have ungodly amounts of Lympha. You are also encouraged to reflect and have lofty ideas, in order to yet improve your experience.

  36. jsutcliffe says:

    How actiony is the game? Is it more of a beardy thoughtful game, or are there sections where twitch gameplay training will come in handy? I'm thinking of getting it for my wife, but she's not very good with FPS games.

    • The LxR says:

      Well, you don’t exactly need masterful FPS skills, but the game will require fast decisions at times.

  37. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    After the extensive RPS coverage and John’s review, I decided to order the game. I predict many suffocating as well as mesmerizing hours playing this.