Perhaps because of the increased importance of narrative in video gaming today, titles that may not have otherwise placed any importance on telling a story have instead opted to try their hand at spinning the proverbial yarn. That’s not always a good thing, unfortunately: while an interesting set of characters and a winding plot can add a lot of weight to the goings-on of a game, a misstep or two in developing these elements can actually subtract from the impact of the gameplay.
Such is the unfortunate case of Attractio, a well-meaning first-person puzzle game developed by GameCoder Studios and picked up for publishing by Bandai Namco Entertainment. While there are a lot of intriguing ideas in this Portal-inspired puzzler, a totally unnecessary story and some finicky design elements keep their potential held in check. That’s not to say this is a bad game, of course, but there are a few barriers in place that might keep people from enjoying the best of what it has to offer.
The first of these barriers is the goofy, totally dispensable story, which may actually turn potential players away before they even get to the first level. As the game’s slogan “The Reality Show Begins” suggests, Attractio depicts the events of a reality show — a twisted, futuristic one in which three people compete in a series of puzzles to have their wishes granted through a hefty monetary prize… and failure results in death. These competitors include Dalek, an infamous prisoner who may have been falsely convicted of the crime that made him an inmate; Mia, a hard-working and optimistic woman who wants to use the money to benefit others; and Keir, who is pretty much the same as Mia except even more of an insufferable, boring goody-two-shoes.
As these three travel through the puzzle rooms of the eponymous reality game show, they’re guided by the most annoyingly unctuous of hosts — a guy that makes Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games seem unenthusiastic by comparison. Essentially, the problems with the story are threefold: one, none of these characters have enough depth to sustain interest for any length of time at all; two, they are all voiced poorly by actors trying much too hard; and three, the framing device of a reality show makes absolutely no sense for the kind of gameplay on offer.
That’s because Attractio is a Portal-style first-person puzzler, remember? That means the action chiefly consists of puzzles where you move different types of boxes around and manipulate gravity to reach the goal. Oftentimes, this requires a lot of thinking; trial-and-error can work, but it will only get you so far before you have to slow down and really pay attention to what you’re moving and where it’s going. To make things even more complicated, the involvement of physics in the mix means this isn’t a purely cognitive experience — even if you’ve laid out the best plans possible, the slightest variation in physically executing them can be the difference between sweet success and suffering a painful death. Falling to your demise is not uncommon here.
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And that brings us around to the problem with its narrative tie-in, which is: what exactly about this premise made it seem suited to a story about a deadly reality show? If there were things at stake in each of the levels, and actual consequences for failing to meet the requirements, there might be a reason to set the proceedings in such a tense environment. But as it stands, dying only returns you to the last checkpoint, and there doesn’t seem to be any narrative consequence or reward for completing the puzzles faster or with fewer mistakes. Beyond that, I found myself wondering whether or not people would really tune in to watch contestants walk around in cramped rooms, solving gravity puzzles with little commentary or drama. That might seem like nitpicking, but since the story is so in-your-face and omnipresent, it’s hard not to question its logic at least a little bit. The bottom line, though, is that it just doesn’t work all that well.
Thankfully, the puzzles are a lot better than the story. As mentioned, they’re pretty devious, and you’re pretty much expected to fail a few times before getting things right — the game’s trophy for falling to your death 50 times stands as a testament to that. But while it will take some time getting used to the three characters’ unique gimmicks (Dalek’s different types of blocks, Mia’s gravity-shifting boots and Keir’s gravity gun), each puzzle past the early game serves as a great test of both dexterity and critical thinking. Like any puzzle game worth its salt, finding the ultimate solution to these multi-step ordeals gives you that satisfying “a-ha!” feeling.
Visually, Attractio gets the job done without necessarily being mesmerizing — the Entertainment Space Station where your exploits take place is dark but colorful, although it would have been nice to see more variety in the environments (the dystopian sci-fi world shown outside the space station’s walls would have made for a welcome change of scenery). The score does provide some eerie, ethereal synths for ambiance, but these tunes aren’t likely to linger in your mind after you stop playing.
On the whole, Attractio is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it offers up plenty of difficult physics-based puzzles, each with an oh-so-satisfying “a-ha!” solution. On the other, it’s weighed down by a simplistic narrative that makes no sense given the slow-paced, low-stakes gameplay, and its emphasis on admittedly weak story elements makes ignoring the cliched “Deadly Game” plot and poor voice acting that much harder. In the end, the puzzles are strong enough to earn this a cautious recommendation, but only for those who won’t mind rolling their eyes through the cutscenes.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
Attractio's first-person physics-based puzzles are good enough to stand on their own, which is why it's such a shame that its intrusive and simplistic story undermines their appeal. If you can ignore the obnoxious voice acting and dopey plot long enough to enjoy the satisfying puzzles though, we suggest you do so.