Something terrible has happened. In the distance tower blocks burn and when I look to the sky, there’s evidence of an even greater catastrophe hanging overhead. A Fine Mess is a short game about surveying a disaster from a distance. You walk around an inlet, stopping to look through tower viewers at various intervals. Scanning the scenery, you can get a closer look at the devastation and clues as to your own place in the world. And down on the beach, someone is skipping stones…
I was watching Black Mirror last night and A Fine Mess’ bleak grayscale landscapes remind me of series 4 episode Metalhead. This isn’t a violent game though. I’d describe it as eerily tranquil.
It’s less than an hour long so normally I’d be very wary of spoiling anything, but the truth is I’m not entirely sure what there is to spoil. Some of the sights, perhaps, but when it comes to the plot or meaning, I’m not sure I understood well enough to reveal anything at all.
The whole setting and story are quite vague. As I said right at the start, something terrible has happened, and that’s as much as you know and perhaps as much as you’ll ever know. There are clues but there’s a central mystery that left me confused. Perhaps that’s the point, or perhaps everything would be clearer if I’d spent more time exploring. You’re mostly stuck to paths, surrounded by impassable fences, but when the credits rolled, the game told me I’d achieved 78% completion. I’m half-tempted to go back and find the sights I missed.
As much as I like the aesthetic, a world bled of colour, there are some technical tricks that don’t work all that well. Collapsing rocks that should be dramatic bounce just a little too much and a couple of seagulls seemed to have become trapped in the geometry of the beach at one point. They’re minor things, but because the game relies so much on its atmosphere, I found them distracting.
And even though I was slightly frustrated by the lack of closure, A Fine Mess it at its best when it’s vague. There’s one particularly on the nose bit of environmental storytelling that spells out the situation with all the elegance of a sledgehammer to the gut.
Primarily, A Fine Mess feels like a marker. It isn’t developer Tan Tuncag’s first game but it’s his first that isn’t explicitly tied to one of his musical projects as Cava Grande. Previously, he released Sentinel, which you can download for free, to accompany one of his tracks. You should download it because it looks like this:
A Fine Mess is also available on Itch and costs $1.99.