Sometimes you don’t think about the title behind a video game. Often, it’s just a means of communicating which game one is talking about in particular. There is no rhyme or reason behind a particular moniker, just like there is no rhyme or reason behind why anyone still gives a watery crap about the Kardashians.
With that in mind, I was quite surprised to see a whole Wikipedia entry about SeeThrough Studios’ Particulars. Not an entry about the game itself, mind you. Instead, it was a short description about the term “particulars.” Here’s what it said:
“In philosophy, particulars are concrete entities existing in space and time as opposed to abstractions.”
‘Tis nothing, thought I, until I actually began to play the game. Then I realized how apt that description really was when it came to describing this indie puzzle title. Particulars is not some run-of-the-mill independently-made brain teaser. It’s a game that…well, actually, it’s difficult to describe.
Your first instinct is to classify it as a title that requires a lot of thought from the player. With a heavy base in the scientific field of quantum physics, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was something only for the academic sort. But it’s really not. Intellectual prowess seems to be the core centre of the game, but it doesn’t appear to require the player to input their own mental abilities.
Particulars opens with a rather ambiguous cutscene. We begin with an answer message from a melancholic sounding voice, a father. The tone is sad, but not desperate. Is this person important? His inclusion in the game’s intro would suggest he is.
We then cut to a comic-style drawing of a woman sitting in a darkened room. An envelope is slid under the crack of her door, but the deliverer is never seen. Inside is a letter affixed with a storage key. And so the female heroine of this static animation sets out on her way. We, as the audience, are invited to keep guessing, and then the game begins.
You do not play as the aforementioned woman in the tale. At least not in any direct way. Instead, you play as a quark. A quark is described as any number of subatomic (smaller than an atom) particles that seem to exist only in theory. And so, this is where the crux of the game’s title comes into play.
For you see, you are the tiniest hero in this most unique game. Your field is built around hypotheses and theories, yet here you are in a physical world, taking part. And despite the tiny insignificance of playing something smaller than an atom, you mean a lot to the story and the human characters that come into play.
The object of the game is to complete each level as indicated by the instructions. You control the quark around a minimalist playing field, attaching yourself to other particles, or repelling harmful ones. You complete goals by reaching end points, collecting a set number of items or avoiding danger for a length of time. Were the game to simply have that as its pretext, you would be playing a still somewhat imaginative title. Just one with not quite so much emotion and personality.
This is where the human characteristics come into play. Between each completed level there is a bitesize chunk of the story of Alison, a physicist who – interwoven with the gameplay – is at the heart of her own personal struggles. There is a juxtapose at play here as the malaise of young Alison unwinds itself while you tinker with the very fundamentals of existence.
Particulars itself does not require an academic background in physics, as you do not need a science degree to enjoy the sombre mood of the game. However, what I did find intriguing was its inclusion of an encyclopaedia for those who wish to read up on quarks, bosons, etc. It’s a veritable glossary of terms. An in-game science lecture, if you will.
Gameplay-wise, Particulars is very easy to get into. After the first couple of levels, there is not much in terms of mechanics that you need to burden yourself with. You move your quark around the screen and complete the requested tasks before moving onto the next segment.
I wouldn’t really say the game has any puzzle elements, as it requires more in the way of manoeuvrability than solving skills. It’s a surprisingly intriguing aspect that sometimes borders on addictiveness and often accompanies puzzle games. However, just like that genre, it does come with its fair share of frustrating moments. Often it felt like levels were completed out of sheer luck rather than talent, but as things progress, there is always that sense of accomplishment.
Particulars is an example that should be held up as proof that not all ideas have been thought of yet. It is certainly unique in its story and presentation, and the accompanying soundtrack makes the whole experience feel almost meditative. While it often battles against some of the more thwarting moments in the game, its challenging levels interspersed with a sobering side story make this indie title a wondrous creation that’s simple on the outside, but deep in its execution.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
Particulars presents a very unique puzzle game that is unlike almost anything we've ever seen before.