‘Game over’, ‘Please Try Again’, ‘Continue?’
We spend the majority our gaming lives trying to avoid death at all costs. Some people even traverse the deepest regions of the Internet for cheat codes that address this particular issue. It’s been that way since the days of Super Mario Bros., and it is, and always will be the case now and in the future. Now imagine a game where death is an absolute requirement in order to progress the story. Hard right? It’s akin to asking a boxer to take a few open punches in order to win the bout; it just doesn’t feel natural. It goes against all your better instincts.
“If first impressions were everything then Baroque would be the worst game ever made”If first impressions were everything then Baroque would be the worst game ever made. From the opening cut scene the story is frustratingly unclear. You’ve committed a sin. You’re not told exactly why – all you have is the word of a mysterious archangel and the instructions to make your way to the bottom of the ominous Neuro Tower, in order to save the world and atone for whatever it is you’re guilty of. Exploring an eerily lifeless town for answers, its inhabitants are apparently as clueless as you are. From Baroque’s introduction alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Sting didn’t want you to play their game. But after a few hours, and triggering the right scenarios through making progress to certain depths in the tower, or – as already discussed – dying at specific moments amongst other things, Baroque slowly but surely drip feeds players Memento-style, the more intricate details of the protagonist’s past and story of this at times, jumbled mess of a game.
While Baroque’s unorthodox method of narrative story telling is a unique approach, it’s made sour by the stilted, lifeless gameplay that all but typifies the manic dungeon crawling genre. Baroque consists of making your way through a series of identical ‘rooms’ while trying to fight off a surge of odd ball enemies, until you die and are taken back to the main ‘hub’ sans all your equipment and the levels gained while there. This will come as a shock to the system for any player not habituated to such harsh conditions, and because it takes so long for Baroque to hit the ground and start running, a lot of determination is needed if you’re looking to hang around.
However, Sting has certainly given players the tools to get through the Neuro Tower with some success. The game boasts a large array of weapons and items that can work in tandem with each other to create even more options for attack and defence. . It adds a fresh layer over the repetitive, claustrophobic level design – but it seems rather pointless exploring the deeper side of this when you know you’re just a corridor away from being mercilessly beaten to death by a hopping Satan and spinning, mutated turtle… thing.
“The variety on show is undoubtedly impressive and equally as intimidating for novices to the genre”Spinning, mutated turtle-things are just one of the few strangely sculpted souls that have succumbed to the weight of their Baroque (the manifestations of a person’s mind). It gives the game a very eccentric look that sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the bland, grainy environments. The more human shaped inhabitants are all doll-like in stance, with a touch of generic animé about them – and the voice acting is functional if nothing else; one particular highlight – if for all the wrong reasons – comes in the shape of a character that has a seemingly uncontrollable need to say “God damnit” after every utterance. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the techno soundtrack that beats in the background at all times during your date with the Neuro Tower. If there’s any positive in that respect, it’s that at least the music ties in conveniently with the repetitive, droning nature of the gameplay.
Investing time and money into Baroque comes down to your tolerance for the genre – those experienced with ‘roguelike’ dungeon crawlers should find a lot of hidden depth here mixed in with an engaging story. For everyone else, Baroque is a more often than not, distant, vague and unfairly difficult experience you could probably do without.