By Adam Smith on September 10th, 2012 at 3:02 pm.
How many lives must be expended to put in a lightbulb? If a tree falls in a forest but there is no light to show its final position, can it bridge the gap across a chasm? These and other philosophical quandaries are answered in Tyler Galiel’s Closure, a platform-puzzler that constitutes a sinister journey comprised of a thousand tricks of the light. Here’s wot I think.
About half way through the first of Closure’s four worlds, I started to keep track of the ‘Eureka’ moments, balancing them against the ‘You what?’ moments. Those thousand tricks of the light that make up the game’s challenge are all based on a single principle: where no light falls, nothing exists.
The layout of a level doesn’t change when the lights go out, and most of the lights are almost always out, but you are able to pass through any surface or object that isn’t lit. Carrying around luminescent globes, which I refer to as lifebulbs, reveals the area immediately around the player, a small sphere of existence.
At the earliest stages of the game, it’s useful to have a light in hand because it’s even possible to fall through the floor when it goes dark, but stumbling across a wall is problematic. To get through the wall, it’s necessary to discard your source of light, dropping it on the floor perhaps so that it only illuminates the base of the wall. That wall then ceases to be an obstacle and becomes a step, hopefully leading to a higher pool of light. Rapidly, the utilisation of light becomes more complex, with pedestals that trigger movement, bulbs hanging from swinging vines and ropes that can be attached to anchor points, lamps that are fixed in place but can have their angle adjusted to cast a beam across different surfaces and objects.
The ‘Eureka’ moments occur regularly enough to make the ‘you what?’ moments bearable and most of the latter were due to me misreading the path through a level. Confronted with several mechanisms and moving components, I’d often believe perfect timing was needed, a light adjusted or placed at just the right moment in order to create a darkness-gap small enough to jump across, or to make a solid piece of architecture in just the right position as the ground beneath me faded to nothingness. Often I was wrong. There are points at which speed is required but on the whole, and the comparison is helpful in several ways, Closure is more like the second Portal than the first.
Once every part of a level has been imprinted in the memory, each of the regularly expanded group of triggers and tools placed through it can be seen to have a specific required position, function and scheduled time of use. In one early example, a box must be dropped onto a pressure plate in order to open a gateway. Since it can’t be lifted and is at the same level as the plate, the player must find a way to move it higher. This involves inserting a globe into a socket that causes a platform to rise. That’d be perfect to carry the crate on but to do that it’s necessary to alter what I’m going to call ‘the light structure’ of the area in order to create a sort of slope underneath the box so that when the floor beneath it is removed, by shifting another light, it falls down and sideways into the makeshift elevator.
As in Portal 2, the required elements usually have one purpose, even where it looks like a level is more open to experimentation. Scoping out an area shows all that is of use and then it’s just a case of working out how all of it connects together with the purpose of moving the player character from one point to another. The biggest difference is that in Closure, most levels can’t be seen until you explore them so expect to fall through the bottom a few times due to ill-positioned lights, or to press the reset button in despair as a vital piece of equipment breaks or vanishes into the void.
None of the levels last longer than a few minutes but setting a sequence into motion and then reaching the end and realising a key is in the wrong place, or a jump is just too high or wide, can be frustrating. That speaks more of my approach to this sort of puzzler though, no matter the quality of its design – I enjoy figuring out how to reach the exit but once I have, I wish a more patient and platformy partner could actually navigate my avatar through the intricacies that my brain has unpicked.
Despite minor frustrations, Closure is rather wonderfully crafted and where the Portal comparison is most relevant is in the way that it made me think about my own actions. Moving and manipulating light becomes a way of reconfiguring spaces, by making aspects visible/existent or invisible/non-existent. For the vast majority of the later game I wasn’t thinking terms of light and darkness, I was thinking in terms of creating, moprhing and destroying the architecture of a level, just as in Portal 2 I found myself thinking of the things I fired as emitters, switches and nozzles, the gels, bridges and lasers harnessed and under my control to the extent that it felt as if I was they had all become part of my arsenal. I place a portal at the end of a bridge of light and this essentially allows me to fire bridges of light of my own.
In Closure, I began to think of my solutions to the problem of finding passage in a similar way. Lighting certain parts of a bridge to make holes through which to drop bulbs feels a weird act of creation and at points the unseen, intangible world feels like something I am painting into being. Closure impressed me most when a level’s complexity caused me to blink and see it afresh, tracing the edges of each pool of light and realising what I was actually looking at. Thinking about the way that the world is constructed for too long can make the whole artifice seem on the verge of collapse and there’s something quite anxiety-inducing about being beneath the only light that exists, everything else reduced to nothing, at least for a moment.
It doesn’t help that there are terrible things lurking in the background, some symbolic, others simply oddly startling, particularly in the sinister circus world. It’s not a horror game and there’s nothing too grotesque in the darkness, but the intentionally vague story is sad, strange and macabre.
I’m going to make one reference to Limbo, even though the games have very little in common. That game began in a forest which was, for my money, the most interesting area of the game, mainly because it looked spectacular and the puzzles felt as if they had grown organically from the soil. Closure had the opposite effect on me, beginning in the blandest of areas and becoming more fascinating to look at and to dress with light as the scenery changed.
Conclusions? It’s a great example of how to take Flash game with a smart concept and build a full title from it. While never deviating from the brilliance of the original idea, Closure has enough ways of presenting that idea to keep the brain ticking over during its considerable length. Just as important, the pacing is strong and almost every level introduces something interesting and fresh, and all that without overwhelming even the most tired of minds (mine).
Closure is available now on Steam for £6.99 (10% off during the launch window).