I underestimated my emotional reaction to a character sitting at a desk with a glass of wine, ticking away at a typewriter. It sounds like a neutral enough action, perhaps even a bit mundane, but The Shattering elevates the scene with its striking imagery and thematic vision. “One more glass of wine to loosen up” might sound like a familiar thought (perhaps similar to one you’ve had in your own life), but that same familiarity takes on a more sinister quality when the act starts to mutate into addiction and a depressive spiral. The visuals at play here are often fantastical and surreal, but the game’s grounding in the genuine struggles of dealing with loss and mental illness provides The Shattering with a profoundly compelling emotional hook.
- What is The Shattering? It’s a first-person narrative adventure featuring light puzzles and themes dealing with mental health, grief, memory, and substance abuse. John has to piece his memories back together after a breakdown. What will you find when you dare to remember?
- Developer: Super Sexy Software
- Publisher: Deck13
- Release Date: April 21, 2020
- Price: $19.99
- Website: www.shattering-game.com
- Reviewed On: PC
Look, and Look Deeper
The visuals of The Shattering are superb. It doesn’t sport impressive assets, there are no character models, and there’s definitely some poorly detailed in-game objects. What the visuals do have, however, are precise, thoughtful uses of color, emotional, creative, disturbing imagery, and a cohesive aesthetic that serves the themes of the game quite well.
Given that much of the game is a disjointed trek through the memories of John Evans, the protagonist, the palette is dominated by grey and white, with the distinctive, emotionally memorable colors of red and blue clinging to roses and wine and blood, to a comb and a broken mirror and a butterfly. This use of color is a great way to illustrate how emotions render certain memories more vivid than others, and as the game progresses and John’s memories become more lucid, the color scheme accordingly becomes more complex. The imagery at play in the shattering is moody, evocative, and thematically appropriate.
Speaking of themes, The Shattering’s are engaging, and they hit close to home. As a writer who struggles with depression and anxiety, the game’s subject matter is highly salient and emotionally charged. Indeed, a few moments in the story skewed dangerously close to moments I’ve lived in the real world. For me this was challenging and ultimately cathartic, but the devs also wisely provide a content warning before the game begins.
It’s not a gratuitous depiction of mental health catastrophes, and the violence is outstripped by countless games which are considerably less disturbing. The effect here comes from the way these moments of violence are grounded in reality. For some, self-harm is a considerably greater danger than that presented by any external threat. A game that broaches such a topic can be substantially more affecting than you might expect. There are gripes I have, like the presence of the overused Rorschach Test as part of dealing with mental health, but overall The Shattering deals with the subject in an earnest, measured, sympathetic manner.
Some Assembly Required
Mechanically, The Shattering is fairly simple and straightforward. No particular task is likely to stump you, and often the best tool for success is merely observing your environment. One of the game’s best mechanical strengths is the way it rewards exploration and careful observation. You can glean numerous details about the characters and story, including a cute newspaper quote exhorting the value of looking for little details.
More generally, your goal is to interact with the environment in various ways, seeking to trigger John’s memories and traverse the winding, painful road to the truth. This is accomplished with a series of light puzzles and narrative setpieces, effective in keeping the gameplay interesting and propelling the narrative forward in a natural way.
The storytelling of The Shattering stands in a strange place for me. On the one hand, there are numerous effective and dramatic sequences, among them a stark depiction of John’s life in an anxiety-fueled nightmare of an orphanage. Furthermore, the flow of the narrative pulls you in, inviting you to piece together this fractured picture of John’s life. On the other hand, and in part because of this intriguing progression, the game’s conclusion feels unsatisfying.
Some loose ends are left dangling, certain plot points which seemed self-evident were treated almost like a twist, while other specifics I wanted to know more about, to finally see the truth about, were glossed over or unceremoniously dropped. There’s nothing wrong with providing a frustrating, ambiguous ending if it leaves the audience pondering the meaning of the story and its themes. Unfortunately, the conclusion failed to provide the earth-shattering catharsis promised by “the truth” and instead left me dissecting the plot and trying to divine why the finale left me so cold.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Audiovisuals - 9/10
Narrative and Themes - 9/10
Exploration and Puzzles - 7/10
Climax and Resolution - 5/10
The Shattering is visually stunning, thematically interesting, and stylishly done. Its aesthetics are good enough that I have (criminally) failed to mention the wonderful, atmospheric sound design. The game is tied together by puzzles engaging enough to generate interest but not complex enough to disrupt the flow of the narrative. It stumbles right at the finish, disappointingly so, but it’s still a meaningful journey worth taking.
- Beautiful Audiovisuals
- Exploration of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
- Detail-Oriented Exploration and Effective Puzzle Design
- Disappointing Conclusion
- Some quality inconsistencies
- Use of Tired Tropes (the Rorschach Test comes to mind)