Back in 2009, UK publisher Mamba Games had grand ambitions. The company launched a new label, Odyssia, which was pitched as ‘raising the bar’ for adventure games. The debut titles, Outcry and The Void, both delivered in spades. However, it seems that quality cannot always compete on a middling marketing budget. Both titles have faded into relative obscurity.

The Void begins with no instruction, no settings and no counselling. In a stiflingly grey, decaying rock faced wooded area, a small amount of stumbling leads the player to the introduction of Colour. Colour is everything in The Void. Your life, bartering tool and the closet you’ll come to actual weaponry. It’s a scarce commodity that not only affects your travels through the game, but also that which every character you meet will want or need to a varying degree.

The Void screenshot

Brothers and Sisters Gather Here

The game pivots on the hinges of its Brothers and Sisters. Brothers are hulking, monstrous creatures of twisted flesh and metal. Whilst Sisters are seductresses; serene and vulnerable, but above all else manipulative. The Brothers are the dominant force within the Void, supposedly keeping a natural balance whilst, in actual fact, hording what precious resources there are for themselves. Their utter destruction is a symptom of their own internal fears, a conflict that you yourself are a part of. Seemingly unsure whether your existence will bring them honour or ruin, as is the player for much of the game, the Brothers will guide you away from the Sisters. Often aggressively. The Sisters are more passive, rewarding your gifts with access into the Void itself, though undeniably flawed in their perception with an addiction to that which you bring: Colour.

The Void screenshot

The Void is not Devoid of Self-Awareness

The socio-political awareness of The Void is quite easily drawn from such a premise. As Shadow of the Colossus toiled to instil a sense of guilt in the player, The Void makes suggestive remarks throughout its characterisation and set-pieces above and beyond its Orwellian hypothesis. As a tool of the game’s cast the player is given a series of menial tasks. There are some challenges that require deeper thought, though as with Fable II, they fall just short of forcing the player to make decisions with fear of consequence.

The player must collect Colour to sustain their life within the Void, ticking down with every step taken. Colour can be harvested from that which you give back to the world, and is used to bargain with Sisters for access to new areas. Different Colours are stored in different heart containers on a menu, and the player must inject Colour into themselves to survive.

Earning new abilities as the game progresses, this stored Colour will also provide the opportunity to attack and defend, as well as performing other actions, through drawing glyphs with the Mouse. The recognition isn’t perfect, frequently falling foul to the same detection issues commonly found in Nintendo DS titles. It can become rather tiresome when failing to draw a shield leads to an untimely death at repeated intervals. The rigidity under which Colour is offered will often mean that an extra attempt may be one too many.

The Void screenshot

A Void of Genre Trends

There is little in The Void that could easily be compared to your standard genre fare. While suggesting the title is a first-person adventure, almost akin to The Redress of Mira, might appropriately score its basic premise, it far from achieves the distinction The Void manages with its invention. At almost every turn there’s an unexpected event or task and often even a new dynamic that should, within traditional videogame convention, immediately break the suspension of disbelief through its awkward juxtaposition, and yet here it simply adds to the overarching feel of endless struggle.

The Void is a charmingly designed game, with its drab textures eventually sprouting shoots of colour and forever gifting intrigue. While it may be someway behind the curve, the elegant confidence in design more than equal the beautiful plasticity of line produced videogames. A few strange choices for art direction cause wonder not of why the developers, Ice-Pick Lodge, settled upon the decision, but as to whether or not it was a conscious decision to highlight a change in pace. The voice acting also proposes such a conundrum, with distinctive characterisation yet so frequently relying on the player’s preconceptions of the persona rather than establishing their own.

The Void screenshot

Colourfully Niche

A masterfully distinctive game, The Void is a captivating experience. Delivering active provocation and constant near-panic. The few flaws that mar the experience will undoubtedly only aid the game to become all the more charming to its key demographic. Which in itself is unfortunately The Void’s biggest downfall. A niche presentation if ever there was one, The Void’s constant state of oppression and anguish are perhaps less intimidating than it’s lack of direction. Modern gamers looking for reflex tests may dive in only to end-up taking a brief paddle, while those who persevere will understand it as just that. Stepping into the breach with Outcry alone may have shown promise, but with The Void Odyssia deserved recognition.

While Mamba Games on Odyssia may have been swept into obscurity by the passage of time, The Void is still available via Steam. If you’re looking for a different kind of adventure, it comes highly recommended.

Categories: Games