Photographs Review 11.99
Developer: EightyEight Games
Platforms: EightyEight Games
Release Date: 2019-04-03
Game description: Photographs is a narrative puzzle game featuring 5 chapters with 5 unique puzzling mechanics. The latest game from Luca Redwood, developer of 10,000,000 and You Must Build a Boat.
Look at these Photographs
Photographs is a game about choices. Not the Telltale/Bioware kinds of choices, but the regrettable choices that people make in the leadup to tragedy. It’s a strange thing for a puzzle game with somewhat rigid gameplay to have this sort of narrative tied to it, and much like its fundamental misunderstanding of tragedy, it doesn’t offer any satisfying messages about choices, either.
But all of this is getting ahead of what this game is. Photographs is the latest puzzle game from developer Luca Redwood. Redwood’s fantastic body of work includes classics like 10,000,000 and You Must Build A Boat. Both of these games would make a list of my top 20 favorite mobile games, but sadly, Photographs just misses the mark.
The largest difference in contrast to its predecessors is its focus on narrative. Across several chapters, you’ll engage with unique puzzle mechanics. This is the most interesting part of the game, as switching up the puzzle styles really helps keep things fresh and moving. The problem here mechanically is that some of the puzzles just don’t feel particularly great.
One chapter’s interesting pinball-esque mechanics fade away when you realise that the solutions are in fact quite rigid, rather than physics based. Another chapter just provides you with simple jigsaw puzzles. In another chapter, you find yourself drawing lines on grids with some interesting rules, but controlling the pen is so frustrating that it kills any satisfaction from solving the puzzle.
Perhaps the greatest sin committed by these puzzles is that they’re so easy. I solved most of them within a minute or two, and even the most insidious ones felt more frustrating than challenging. On top of this, these mechanics aren’t really given room to evolve and breathe. By the time you get a handle on the mechanics and would be ready for more complex implementations of them, you’ve reached the end of the story, and the end of the puzzles.
The thing I most enjoyed about Photographs is the way the puzzles connected with the stories told in each chapter. While a couple of these chapters missed the mark, the way the game abstracts things like diving, newspaper editing, and even more outlandish concepts into repeatable puzzles is neat. I just wish it all controlled better, felt more elaborate, and were tied to more compelling narratives.
Which brings up the biggest issue I have with the game: its story.
As mentioned above, Photographs is split into several chapters, each telling an independant story. You have chapters like the Alchemist, the Athlete, the Journalist, and a few others. All of these stories are about the central character making poor choices, and fostering tragedy. The resulting trauma in most of these stories feels obvious, gratuitous, and empty.
It’s hard to get into specifics without spoiling the game, but the only story that resonated with me at all was the Athlete’s, which coincidentally is the story that shows restraint when hyperbolizing its tragedy. In every other instance, what starts as a promising look at big, important topics like colonization, corrupt news media, and power structures ends in violent and unjustified tragedy. This gets worse as you reach the ending of the game, which provides you with one of the only real choices you make in the game. Unfortunately, this final choice was immensely disappointing to me.
I hate to say it, because I’m a fan of Redwood’s work, but you’d be better served to revisit one of his classics over playing Photographs. The weak narrative elements combined with overly simple and poorly expanded puzzling segments makes for quite the whiff for me.
- Puzzle mechanics that align with the narrative in interesting ways.
- Easy puzzles that don’t really ramp in challenge or complexity in a satisfying way.
- Poorly constructed narratives that lack satisfying conclusions.
- A deeply disappointing ending.