I love going into media as blindly as possible. It’s getting less and less possible to do with cinema and big budget video games as of late, but I try to have my first experience be as pure and untainted as possible. This means that for indie titles I have very little to go on. All the Delicate Duplicates caught my eye while browsing Steam and it looked like a walking simulator (which I’ve played and enjoyed several of so far) but it showed a creative aesthetic and high production value in the trailer, with a creepy theme to boot. So as I’m about to go into this experience for the first time, I don’t know what to expect, but I’m fairly optimistic. I’ll see you on the other side.
All the Delicate Duplicates: Windows PC [Reviewed]
Developer: Mez Breeze, Andy Campbell
Publisher: The Space, One to One Development Trust – Dreaming Methods, Mez Breeze Design
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Price: 7,99€ [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
All the Delicate Duplicates
So…I guess it was about quantum entanglement or something?
All the Delicate Duplicates places the player in the shoes of John, a single father taking care of his daughter Charlotte as she becomes increasingly and morbidly fascinated with a set of strange items inherited from her aunt Mo. And I really can’t say any more about the story aside from that. The game’s story is told in a non-linear fashion. At the outset we are shown the aftermath of a car crash and we are quickly transported to a surreal environment where chess pieces and disembodied words litter the landscape. Shortly after that we are thrown back into our home and given free reign to explore.
The story itself is the puzzle to be solved, as the pieces are scattered about across several decades and degrees of coherence in terms of reality. For the most part, the player gets to explore John and Charlotte’s apartment and interact with items throughout the house and switch between different periods of time. A shift can also be triggered by interacting with a certain item in each time period, usually something that uncovers a bit of story explicitly, such as a diary or someone’s mobile phone and this is the means by which the game progresses. If you get stuck, or run out of ideas you can shift at will, as some of the time zones are less forward with their accessible information than others.
As the story progresses, (or rather regresses or side-gresses) the environment becomes more and more bizarre and arcane, and at times various hazards appear that can even impede your progress. Here’s the kicker: while you can technically “beat” the game in around a half an hour (i.e. get to see the credits) you won’t complete it in a single playthrough. Several time zones advance after you interact with one of two or more items and this eventually materializes in you following through a “path” that locks you out of certain story aspects. You might also miss some clues that will also deny you access to certain items. Regardless, playing through the experience several times should ensure you see most of what the game has to offer.
Visually, All the Delicate Duplicates ranges from unassuming to striking. While the apartment bits are aggressively unassuming, the surreal landscapes can be quite impressive and I feel that the game utilizes them too rarely. The sound design isn’t a technical masterpiece or anything but it’s very well-used and helps create an unsettling, tense atmosphere. It blends well with the floating disembodied letters that occasionally show up, to deliver an eerie feeling.
The game’s story, or rather the structure, is daring, but never manages to be compelling enough. Sure, it drops some interesting hints about quantum physics and occult practices but I didn’t feel a lot of drive to dive into it. That the story is fragmented and non-linear is both interesting and confusing and hard to keep track of, especially since several bits and pieces are only accessible on the game’s website, (or in the game, via a web-like interface) in plain text, which, while a novel concept I personally found to be contrived.
That All the Delicate Duplicates is an interesting game, I cannot deny. However, boldness can only carry a game so far and I feel like this one partially fails to follow through. That its story requires several layers of hermeneutics in order to understand and piece together does it no services. One needs to understand some very basic quantum physics concepts, have the patience to wade through plain text back (and forth) stories, the will to play through the story several times and then try to piece everything together. On the other hand, All the Delicate Duplicates is very forthright with its experimental nature and I can’t deny that I found it at least conceptually intriguing at times. That being said, I think I’d recommend it, but not without a caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.