I picked up Distortions in a $4 IndieGala bundle back in March of 2019, added it to my Steam library because it looked cool, and promptly forgot all about it until I was looking for something to play for #MusicGameMay. Sure, reviews were mixed, but I can forgive a lot of rough edges on an otherwise lovely game. And watching the trailer, it looked like it was going to be absolutely lovely.
However, a little over two hours in, and I have to officially say I’ve given up. This was such an ambitious undertaking for a small indie studio (only four people according to the dev in a discussion thread on Steam), and knowing that, it’s not surprising that it didn’t completely come together. But what they did right, they did so very very right.
I was absolutely willing to trade a somewhat clunky character model for the breathtaking vistas you get throughout the game. I took so very many screenshots while playing because it was just that pretty. The music, and honestly, the sound in general, is also spot on, which made it easy to forgive the rough patches in the translation.
I went in being most concerned about my ability to keep up with the actual musical part of the game. I can’t sight read music, and my rhythm chops are … well … basically chop-less. However, once I overcame the initial awkwardness of the keybinds, even playing the violin felt good.
Unfortunately, not much else did.
Movement is mostly hindered by the constant perspective changes – from first person to third, then to top down, and occasionally even to 2D sidescrolling. The camera is adjustable, until it’s suddenly not, and control is wrested away (and given back) almost randomly. You can sprint when necessary, as long as it’s not necessary for more than a couple of seconds, because your character gets winded fast. It’s almost never clear where the game expects you to go next.
And yet, I wanted to keep playing. But as you enter into the second part (of how many, I cannot tell you for sure), all of a sudden, this linear adventure with light platforming and even lighter rhythm segments goes in a more open-worldy sort of direction, and I was lost.
I knew I needed to collect more music fragments to learn more songs, but I couldn’t figure out where I needed to go. Now, I have no sense of direction, so I fully admit this might be a me problem. I managed to navigate a section which I believe was the Shadowy Forest and unlock the ability to play notes in the wild to solve puzzles, but only narrowly. I bumbled around, eventually finding another song, but once I played it, I couldn’t figure out how to use the wall that it summoned. I was both flummoxed and frustrated and I knew I’d had enough.
Once I exited the game, I did something I almost never do. I went looking for a commentary-free play through. Sadly, I found that the same things that make Distortions un-fun to play also make it not terribly enjoyable to watch (not to mention, the need to pause the video when journal pages are discovered, since neither play through I found left them open long enough to actually read).
Usually, I have no qualms tossing a game a side when it isn’t for me for whatever reason, but this time, I’m doing so with a small measure of regret and disappointment. This could have been great – I think it would have absolutely found an enthusiastic audience if it were a more linear walking sim, maybe sprinkled with music puzzles. I want to read all the journal pages (and am actually considering picking up the reasonably priced DLC on offer to do just that).
I feel like the creators of this game had a very solid vision of how the story should be told, combining exploration, collectibles, puzzles, stealth, and platforming, but when it all comes together, it doesn’t hold up. It’s heartbreaking, because the art and the sound are so well done, and the story was – at least for me – compelling enough that I want to see it through, but I just can’t.
I will, however, keep an eye out for whatever Among Giants does next, assuming they don’t let poor reviews keep them down. And I may still watch the cutscene movie that YouTuber TheBlueDragon put together, and just relax into it and watch it an arthouse film in a language I don’t speak.