I just spent half an hour squinting at my monitor, reading melancholy messages shared between a group of acquaintances. I wasn’t browsing my inbox or Twitter feed – I was playing the imaginative and absorbing FOC/US, a free game created by Felix Park. It’s a dreamlike experience, not in a fantastic surrealist sense, but rather in the way that it reconfigures the mundane. The atmosphere contains something of the claustrophobic oppression of sleep paralysis along with everyday anxieties that stem from love, friendship and money. It begins with a camera with a zoom lens. Next to it, a tiny person lies on the table. Zoom in and speak to him and he reveals the location of the next person. Sad, strange and startling, it’s a wonderful little thing.
I’d suggest you don’t read on at all if you can play now, either in a browser or using the download for Windows, Mac or Linux. I won’t spoil details below, but I do discuss the game’s mood and basic mechanics from start to end.
Originally intended to be part of the seven day FPS jam, FOC/US has been expanded into a cohesive and touching short-form adventure. Each of the characters has only a few lines to say but, when put together, they create a powerful mood and a story I’m glad to have experienced.
It’s also one of the few games that has ever played tricks on my eyes. Invisible without the zoom lens, once spotted, the miniature people stand out, like flecks of dust or dirt, and I’ve suddenly realised how urgently I need to clean my desktop because it looks like there might be a crowd gathering.
A quiet game that uses a single, small location to good effect. It wouldn’t work as well if there was more to see. The brevity and the enclosure are important, right up to the ending, which, without resorting to tacky jump scare methods, deeply unnerved me.