Updated to reflect the new price
The idea of using a game/game-adjacent tech to explore a painting is nothing new. Heck, the idea of stepping into a Monet painting has been done in a game at least once (the point and click thriller Monet: The Mystery Of The Orangery which I STILL can’t get to work on this dang PC for a revisit) but I figured I’d post about IMPRESSIONISTa: Water Lilies [Itch.io site] because the environments have a really pleasant colour palette as far as I can see and I figureD they’d be pleasant to walk around. It was… hmm.
The nicest thing about IMPRESSIONISTa is that the colours are indeed lovely, so it’s like being in a slightly oversaturated dreamscape, and you do get some really pleasant viewpoints within the scene, mostly looking out over the water through some plants.
But the rest felt insubstantial, and started to bother me as I spent more time there. There’s so much re-use of assets that the flower beds just look pretty samey, and they do that thing where they’re on a flat plane but they rotate to face the player so you’re always face-on. It feels like the wrong stylistic choice here, as it throws up this disparity between your mobility in relation to the artwork, but that the art assets only work from one vantage point.
They’re also peculiarly blobby. If you want to talk Monet, he would paint flowers as these smears or blobs of colour as part of his scenes, but when he moved closer you would get more detail. I’m looking through his other paintings now and his agapanthuses are distinct from his irises which are distinct from his asters, sunflowers, waterlilies, roses… My point is that you’re “inside” the painting but for me it doesn’t really capture what Monet was up to, nor really what Impressionism is, it just puts you closer to the elements of it and lets you walk around them.
There’s also a tour mode which makes the game a passive experience as you let the pre-determined camera float around, showing you things. It’s a strange one because it highlights how some of the best viewing angles are ones you can’t find by walking around as they’re slightly above where first person view is.
IMPRESSIONISTa creates an effect that’s the game’s own rather than particularly relating to Monet or the techniques that came to characterise Impressionism. I’d say it’s more like an exploded view of an artwork, but sticking your face right up against a Monet painting isn’t really how you experience them. I only do that to get a sense of the physical brushwork – the three-dimensionality of the paint – and in a digital environment that bit is lost. And so it’s a pleasant dreamscape rooted in imagery that has come to be well-known but I kept being jarred out of the experience by these blobby, rotating assets that really don’t stand up to close quarters contact.
I think the main sticking point for me is that it’s $8 before VAT on Itch.io. For me that pushes it out of impulse buy territory and towards expectations of a meatier experience. I’d happily throw $3 or similar at it – the price of a coffee or some little treat – but it’s just not rewarding enough for more.
Update: The developer sent me an email to note that after feedback they have dropped the price to $2.99 which feels a lot more in line with the experience I had.