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Crayons of the Cosmos: The Void Review

by: Kyle Palantine ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

The Void defies genre, convention and learning curves as it splashes colour all over the dead plane of new ideas. Is there life on the other side of existence or will you obliterate your computer from rage before you find out?

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    The Colour (I'm Out of Space)

    Show me your... rage. The Void is not a new game, it came out in 2009. It is however, a new type of game that defies categorisation; is it an action adventure game? Is it a strange first person shooter, or a puzzle game (like Portal, say)? Is it an RPG?

    Well, it has elements of action/adventure games to an extent. It features combat and you can interact with other characters though you don’t have dialogue options. It even has a vague, shallow RPG element with the different qualities you can imbue on your character, though these are all temporary and it’s not quite ‘role-playing’ in the way that the genre has come to mean. If anything, The Void is closest to a first person strategy game.

    In The Void, there is one resource that defines everything you do; colour. Colour is your life’s blood, your ammunition, your currency,Ambience!  your traits. You store colour in your hearts as Lympha. This keeps you alive. Without a single drop of colour in your heart, you die, dissolving into The Void.

    Within The Void, Lympha is processed by your hearts into Nerva, which can be used to interact with the world in some way, be it planting seeds, giving a gift or striking a blow. ‘The Void’ itself is a series of connected chambers. Inside them, time stands still, but outside them, in The Void itself, colour drips away from your hearts as time moves ever on and the cycles progress.

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    The Abyss Stares Back....HARD! - Gameplay

    Open your heart(s) Sound complex? Well it is. It’s involved and very tense. Time is forever against you as you learn how to manage colour; the game involves a perpetual system of resource management as you struggle to nourish yourself and others all while trying to understand the rules of the world. Even though you are told, the things you are told might not be the truth and the game doesn’t hold your hand.

    Taste the drab. 

    You use colour by painting with it, either disorganised splashes or with glyphs. Time slows down while you apply colour, implying the speed of your otherworldly reflex. Drawing glyphs for magic isn’t a new thing. Arx Fatalis and Black & White both did it. It is however, the best implementation of it that has been so far, and The Void uses it in new and unusual ways.

    Trial and error is inevitable; you will arrange yourself into a corner and have to start over, possibly several times. This escalated difficulty is in stark contrast to most modern games but the increased challenge means increased reward when things reveal themselves as right.

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    Drawing Destiny - Controls & Interface

    The use of glyphs helps to tap into the strangeness of the world and give the feeling that the player really can manipulate colour, like So hot. you’re a supernatural being playing with magic (or a supernaturally angry person screaming at a monitor when you get the “glyph failed” noise). Each glyph does different things, from donation to shields to lures to mining to projectiles and so on.

    Drawing glyphs can often require being annoyingly precise when you'd much rather it be intuitive, but other than that the controls are fluid and the interface is either completely absent or a seamless representation of your Nerva palatte or your hearts themselves, within your body and your Lympha palatte. Every aspect of the game is firmly rooted in the purgatorial world of The Void, the presentation and how you take part, not least of all.

    Using colour has its cost though and you’ll gain the attention of both the vulnerable Sisters who need colour to survive, like you, and the brutal Brothers, who claim it is taboo. There’s a nice contrast in that the siren like Sisters Reinventing the wheel. represent the beauty that colour can bring to The Void and the grotesque, mutilated, half mechanical Brothers embody what it has become without it.

    Both will demand things of you and both will share knowledge with you, but it’s easy to be suspicious of both as everyone has some sort of agenda and seems to want to manipulate you; you’ll find yourself questioning your choices and wondering who to trust, if anyone. Nobody does anything for free in The Void.

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    Brutal but Blind - Graphics

    Continuing the theme of unforgiving harshness, The Void is populated by dead and dying realms; rocky wasteland, wilted gardens, The Colours of Magic corroded chambers, crumbling ruins, all lying in stark contrast with the vibrancy that colour brings. It is a world in the twilight of its existence. Despite how eclectic some of the environments are in theme they all have a haunting, melancholy aspect.

    The graphics engine itself is nothing special, but the art design has a solemn, fluid quality to it, maintaining the element of the uncanny as much of the world seems like it's plucked from a place that is familiar and altered to fit inThe Void  with The Void, playing on the themes of memory that the protagonist does not fully have, yet alien enough to be unnerving. The creatures that inhabit The Void game, exemplify this with their at once insect yet mammalian aesthetic blended to make them vaguely recognisable but also disoncerting and 'off'.

    The environment of The Void is like a fevered dream bound into a living, but not breathing place.

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    The Voice of Colour - Sound

    Mysterious yet wet. The sound design plays a big part in making this unreal world real; there's an atmospheric quality to how sparsely sound appears to be used, from the whistling wind, to droplets in a cave, to the minimalist nature of the music which in itself sounds like its made up of unfamiliar ambient noises and drones. A notable touch is the unreality of some of the sounds; when traversing stairs for example, instead of the familiar clanging that is expected, a strange warping sound plays, evoking the image ofsomething willing itself over a surface rather than climbing. Throughout the game you're visited by disembodied whispers that grow to encompass various factions all clamouring to have your ear with every one of your actions. It's an excellent device for making the player feel anchored within the world of The Void game.

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    Too Weird to Purchase at Full Retail Price, Too Rare to Not Rave About - Conclusion

    This is no time to relax. Are you even listening? The Void is unique; there is not another thing like it, save the previous game by developer Ice Pick Lodge, Pathalogic, and even then the comparison is based in stylistic choice and the atmosphere it creates.

    The Void is intriguing and powerfully immersive; it doesn’t always feel fun, but it draws you in on several levels. On one hand there is the challenge aspect of it, the game forces you to cultivate colour to survive, both within The Void and within yourself, so you must constantly keep abreast of sowing seeds, harvesting and protecting your investment as well as your own metabolism. Other than survival it could be because you need to win someone over or fight one of the trying and ever so slightly random major battles.

    On another hand is the mystery of The Void and the desire to uncover the truth of it; to understand the various motives of those who dwell within and just what The Void itself really is. The Void is painfully frustrating sometimes. It can be enraging to the point that you won’t want to play it for a while, but find yourself inevitably sucked back in anyway. There is so muchMist me!  going on in and going for The Void despite the perfectly vertical learning curve.

    It’s not for everybody, but then not everybody is concerned with the nature of death or the nature of existence. That a computer game of all things explores this and does it in a challenging way is something to take notice of. It probably won’t change the way you think about such matters, but it might change the way you think about the medium as it’s so far divorced from everything, it’s an experience unto itself.