Smash and Grab
If you've ever hung around Video Game Twitter then first I'm sorry. Second, you may know a bit of a gag that's been going around. The joke is as follows: "There are only three types of video games. You are a special fighty shooter who pew pews, 'oh I get it, it's about depression', and Nintendo." Of all the video games I have ever played, The Shattering is the most 'oh I get it, it's about depression' video game I've played. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, The Shattering knows what it wants and it's going for it. The question is more if it can manage those goals.
You play as John Evans, an aspiring author that's found himself in a terrible accident. Attempting to help him, a doctor gives him hypnotherapy, hoping that slipping into his memories can give a better idea as to what can be done. You'll get to see various moments in John's past, trying to work out what's real, what's part of the stories that he's written, and what lead to this eventual accident. As can be expected, very little is as it seems.
Name and Shame
The Shattering does a pretty good job keeping you connected with John as a character and telling his story. It's interesting seeing all the weird little holes in the tale and trying to rip it apart to see what fits and what doesn't. A few late-game story beats actually caught me by surprise, as parts of the story I was so sure were real ended up being fake and vice-versa. If you're looking for something on the dramatic side, The Shattering should have something that will keep you interested.
However, not all the inconsistencies feel like they belong. At the start, the doctor helping John reveals that he was in a car crash. This is never brought up again. A little later, the game changes its mind and reveals it was actually a self-inflicted gun wound from a suicide attempt. It feels strange that the doctor would be okay with lying to John about what happened when the whole game is about helping John come to terms with real events. It's rare, but small things like this seem to stand out in a weird way.
Memories and Lies
Real or not, several of The Shattering's scenes are rather difficult to get through. Some of John's memories are dark and violent, managing to hit home in a pretty tough way. Early on, John hunkers down in a hotel room looking for peace and quiet in an attempt to write his next major novel. However, as little things keep distracting and annoying him, he becomes increasingly unhinged, wrecking the room, destroying the TV, boarding himself in, and eventually trying to retreat into the bathroom. Another scene goes through John's childhood, how he was bullied by other kids, and eventually ganged up on and beaten up. They're hard-hitting scenes and some of the best moments of The Shattering.
I just wish getting to these moments required less busywork. As far as gameplay goes, a lot of The Shattering is just walking from location A to B and observing the events around you. You'll occasionally have to make dialogue choices, but there's no wrong answer and such a choice doesn't do much other than changing some small plot details. There are no monsters to fight or avoid, but a couple of times you have to run away from advancing walls of darkness that, should they catch you, just set you back to the beginning of the segment.
The most prominent gameplay element is the simple act of interacting with the environment. There aren't puzzles or anything, just finding the right object and clicking on it to move forward. This may see you cleaning up a mess, assembling a suit, unpacking boxes, or more, but it's all as simple as finding and clicking. There's nothing wrong with that, however, The Shattering has a very unfortunate tendency to hide what you're looking for in obscure locations. It turns this game into a first-person pixel hunter, as you try to figure out what the developer wants you to do to advance. Simply, it's never fun and often brings the actually interesting story to a grinding halt.
At least all of this extra time lets you take in the game world. Featuring a lovely art style that makes use of minimalistic colors, The Shattering really does look great. Care is put into the way the world is organized, and how it really seems to be coming apart at the seams. While I may not have enjoyed the game constantly being reduced to a pixel hunt, I did enjoy at least getting to look around. Some solid voice acting helps tie the characters down, and I appreciated how the game's later chapters used voice lines in new contexts to pain new meanings on them.
The Shattering Review | Final Thoughts
I don't think that The Shattering succeeds in everything it tries to do. The story is good, but it certainly has some problems. The game would have been much more enjoyable without the iffy pixel hunting segments, which seemed to do nothing but hold up the story. It's pretty and worth checking out from an artistic side. I certainly don't regret the three hours it took to play through The Shattering, but I would suggest making sure you really know if you want it before grabbing it.
TechRaptor reviewed The Shattering on PC using a copy provided by the developers.
- Interesting Story
- Several Intense Moments
- Great Art Style
- A Few Story Moments Don't Work
- Lots of Pixel Hunting