A few weeks ago I received a copy of ‘InFlux‘. I had been craving a puzzle game for a while, so I dove right in. What I found was a unique mix of environmental platformer and puzzler that left me confused about my feelings, my expectations, and a host of other things. This confusion stuck with me through my multiple attempts at writing this review. I think I’ve finally got a handle on things now, (gulp) so let’s get started…
‘InFlux’ is an indie puzzle game that comes to us from the friendly folks at Impromptu Games, an indie developer based in Melbourne, Australia. The game stars a mysterious space sphere that crash lands on an island. Under control of the player, the ball rolls around exploring, experiencing, platforming, and yes, solving puzzles.
All of these features are wrapped around a mechanically simple game playable on keyboard/mouse or gamepad. Both control schemes work perfectly well, but I preferred the gamepad. I’m much more comfortable with a controller than a mouse and keyboard, and controlling the movements of a round object felt more natural with an analog stick than it did with arrow keys. Aside from rolling around, the ball has other unique properties that aid in puzzle solving. These abilities allow the sphere to attract and repel objects. This is useful for opening doorways, clearing paths blocked by rocks, and collecting things. The third and final ability is a “boost.” You can build up a charge to boost yourself farther and faster. In addition, time slows while the boost is charging, allowing for tighter turns. These abilities are metered out slowly through the tutorial portion of the game, and are used liberally in every puzzle.
This game bills itself as a, “relaxing puzzle game for Windows and Mac,” and for the most part, it lives up to this description. The general flow of the game is as follows: explore and collect glowing things, find a glasshouse, feed the glowing things to a gnarled root pedestal that activates the glasshouse, enter the glasshouse, solve puzzle, repeat. I know this may not sound particularly relaxing, but there is a good amount of downtime between puzzles, and this time is well spent exploring the beautiful environment while listening to some absolutely enchanting music by Jonathan Yandel.
Unfortunately, this is where the gushing stops. If you listened to a recent episode of the podcast, you would know that I have some issues with ‘InFlux’. Here’s a short list of my gripes:
- Frame Rate: My PC meets the recommend specifications listed, but I just could not seem to keep it running at an acceptable frame rate, even on the lowest possible settings. This problem became particularly bad when the game was autosaving or loading. And before you ask, yes, I updated my video drivers and did all the routine “junk.”
- Bugs: I found two bugs that, although not game breaking, were quite annoying. The first involves disappearing textures/geometry. Whenever I would Alt-Tab out of the game and re-enter, certain areas of the floor would have disappeared. Trivial, but irksome none the less. The second was far more criminal. At the start screen, the game prompts you to “Resume” from where you last left off. This option, on multiple occasions, would not take me to the last place the game autosaved, but roughly 30-45 minutes before that point. I would have had to redo the puzzles I had already solved if I had not, by chance, discovered a workaround. By pausing the game and selecting the “restart from last checkpoint” option, I was able to advance myself to the place where I had left off.
- Audio: This, arguably, could be a stylistic decision, but I have my doubts. A lot of care went into the sound in ‘InFlux’. There is evidence of this all over the place, from the humming sound of a charging boost to the excellent soundtrack. This makes the fact that the sphere’s contact with the ground makes no noise that much more jarring. Yep. The metallic ball bouncing around on glass and rock makes no sound at all. This really bugged me because it made the game feel somewhat unfinished.
- Puzzles: I swear I’m not tooting my own horn when I say that the puzzles in ‘InFlux’ were far too easy. At first glance they seem interesting, but they quickly became a mindless chore wherein you guide color coded balls of light into their appropriate containers. This really disappointed me because I enjoy challenging myself to learn the skills, tricks, and nuances necessary to best the puzzle at its own game. When I get in this kind of mood, nothing feels quite as good as the dopamine high I get when I rub all my newfound smarts in the puzzle’s face. These bland puzzles didn’t allow for that, and seemed like an afterthought at best. Never once did I feel like I was overcoming a challenge. For reference, the closest thing I can compare it to is finishing very easy Sudoku puzzles. You know exactly how to finish them, but you still have to go through the tedious steps to complete it. And before you start whining, yes, I do understand that the game is supposed to be a “relaxing” experience. I am a firm believer, however, that something can be both challenging and relaxing.
- Story: There isn’t much story to be had in ‘InFlux’, and that’s a real shame. Most of the game is spent exploring beautiful environmental areas between glasshouses which are ripe for atmospheric storytelling. Sadly, the game doesn’t utilize this very much. “So what?” you say. “It’s a puzzle game,” you say. Trust me, I would have said that too before I finished the game. Having finished it, though, I now see that the developers were capable of something truly great. The ending was one of the strongest examples of environmental storytelling I’ve seen in a long while. It left me asking why they didn’t use this talent throughout the entire game.
Long story short…
‘InFlux’ is a relaxing/mindless puzzle game that, at the end of the day, really disappointed me. The gorgeous visuals, music, and stellar ending couldn’t make up for the lackluster puzzles and technical misfires. If you’re truly interested, I’d recommend waiting for it to go on sale. For right now, however, your 10 USD are better spent elsewhere.