I’ve noticed a rise in games using the tag ‘surreal’ lately. As developers fight to get noticed, many have opted to don the label with the mind of creating something unique, strange, and memorable. Most attempts at the genre end up either awkwardly falling short, or zoom off the other end of the line and are so ‘out there’ that they’re difficult to play, let alone remember. A recent title that calls itself a minimalistic surreal action game is NO THING, which comes to us from independent company Evil Indie Games.
At its core, NO THING is a first-person constant runner. You’re tasked with delivering a letter to the Queen of Ice, and to get there, must safely travel across a platform, pressing right and left when necessary. There are no lives or check points, so if you fall, you’re starting the level again. I don’t believe I’ve stared at a screen in disbelief for so long than when I mistimed a button press and fell off the edge at 99% level completion.
Just a glance at the visuals will have you putting a solid tick next to the surreal box. While your focus needs to be on the endless pathway, the game does whatever it can to distract you. Looming faces, hands, and buildings will suddenly appear in the foreground, background, and on the pathway itself, which is rather unnerving. There is also a constant layer of colour over everything, which changes at regular intervals. The screen quality will also become fuzzy, darker, or add static to throw you off guard. It’s an assault to the eyes that still somehow manages to have style once you get used to it, although those susceptible to migraines may want to stay away.
There is an attempt at story through a narrator, who is your constant companion. I was rather into the commentary at first and enjoyed the electronic voice, as well as piecing together the clipped information about the simplest office clerk, his current journey, and the world surrounding him. It’s all rather clever, but ultimately became background noise.
My priorities had to be firmly set on the gameplay, as a slip in concentration resulted in death. I ended up missing a lot of the dialogue, despite replaying levels multiple times. It was possible to get the gist, but the only way to really hear the whole story is probably to pass the game over to a friend, then listen while they play.
Accompanying the bizarre visuals and narrator is the game’s soundtrack. The techno music switches tones for each level so there ends up being quite a mixture that includes relaxing, grunge, and funky tunes. Despite each track being different, they are on a short loop that gets rather repetitive. It can add to the slightly mind numbing experience as the music mixes with the visuals and constant turning. If you get to the point where you’re in zen mode because you haven’t blinked for a while and feel ready to float off with the visuals, you might want to try putting your own music on in the background for a refreshing change of pace.
The gameplay can be deceptively difficult in NO THING. The speed is slowly increased with each turn made on the pathway, making the end of levels a test of your focus and reaction times. There is little room for error, as not turning at exactly the right time leads to being close to the edge, and endangering the success of future turns. It isn’t easy to correct mistakes either, as the turning is rarely responsive enough to reset your course.
I found the first-person view point reminiscent of learning to drive – trying to watch exactly in front of you so you stay centred, while staring into the distance to see what’s coming next. To make things a little more difficult, there are bumps, ledges and ramps that give momentum and cause you to fly forwards. They are introduced slowly but become a big part in later levels, where it’s required to masterfully turn in the air multiple times to land safely on the path.
NO THING consists of 10 levels, with little variety in the gameplay. The best way to play is therefore in short bursts so it doesn’t get too frustrating, repetitive, or painful on the eyes. While no level is overly long, the challenge means that a number of hours can be sunk into getting that perfect run. In general, the game is fair and gives at least a flash of what is coming next for you to react to. It can be very difficult to see and react in time however, so a certain amount of learning the level is often required to successfully grasp all the turns and timings.
When it comes down to it, NO THING is a title that must be experienced in order to be truly understood. Its headache inducing visuals, lack of content, and frustrating challenge will justifiably put many people off giving it a try. All negatives aside though, I did have fun while playing, with a ‘I’ll just have one more go’ attitude every time I died. The intuitive controls mean that anyone can give it a try, and you might just find the visuals and narration leave you wanting more.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
NO THING is a surreal constant runner experience with simplistic gameplay mechanics that make it accessible to everyone. It’s still a title for eclectic tastes though, due to its abstract narration, weird visuals and difficult challenge level.