“NORTH is a good experience while it lasts, but it is all over too soon.”
NORTH is a short story driven game by Outlands, published by Sometimes You. Set in a grey dystopian world inhabited by several forms unusual species, you play as a recent immigrant who has crossed “the deserts” to seek asylum from “the South”. These concepts are not deeply explored, other than mentions of the South being no place for you anymore. Instead, the game focusses on your attempts to fit in and become a true citizen of this city in the North.
The game largely uses atmosphere and puzzles to drive its story forward. These are not extremely complex, but the species in the game do not speak English, so finding the way forward can be difficult. NORTH cleverly alleviates this problem by allowing you to send letters home to your sister in the South. These letters help to drive the story, but also translate the otherwise confusing way forwards into simple directions to follow. This is an incredibly smart and simple way to keep the game moving, and keep you engaged with the goings on around you.
The puzzles themselves are intelligent, and need to be completed in specific orders in order to progress fully. Each one has a genuine purpose too, as well as a message to portray. The game links each of its aspects to the real life struggles that some asylum seekers might face in the real world. These include working, religion, suspicion of criminal intent and aspects of their personal life. The overarching theme is seeking acceptance in order to support your family; one which will be all too familiar to some. Greater purpose is placed on the meaning behind the game’s puzzles than on their complexity, which works strongly in its favour as a story-driven title.
Interacting with the world in NORTH is also a simple task. You simply move and click on specific objects in order to progress, allowing you to focus on the story and puzzles without convoluted controls to learn. One problem which does occur at times is the need to look at very specific points on objects in order to activate them. Otherwise, the only other difficulty which arises with these interactions can be the visuals.
The game is very basic in its design, with the appearance of an early 2000s title. Whilst the dystopian mood is portrayed perfectly, you cannot always rely on objects standing out in the environment. The lighting has the same characteristics of being ideal for the mood but not really helping you find your way around. The game is generally very dark, and with several dark corners dotted around it is often difficult to see which are genuine routes to follow.
Confusing at times but fulfilling in its story telling and underlying messages, NORTH is an interesting experience from start to finish. The game can be completed easily within about 40 minutes, which is worth noting before you buy. There is plenty of room for the game to have lasted beyond this time frame; however its simplicity and design might not hold your attention for much longer than its current window. It is a bit of a toss-up between value for money and the satisfaction of the story, but ultimately I feel I would have preferred it to have a little more to it.
As much as I enjoyed and appreciated the ideas presented in NORTH, I do not see it as a repeatable experience or one which I would usually have made the decision to buy. It is very short and perhaps a little too basic in its features and design. That being said, it tells a meaningful story in an intelligent way, and for that it deserves some credit. A world that is compelling but should have been explored further, NORTH is a good experience while it lasts, but it is all over too soon.
- Heavily story-driven gameplay, with a deep, dark tone and satisfying pace.
- Well thought out dystopian backdrop reminiscent of futuristic-noir movies.
- The game’s themes draw on the real life struggles and experiences of refugees, giving the game a meaningful feel.
- Intelligent puzzles and storytelling techniques engage the player well.
- Interacting with the world can occasionally be awkward, and finding your way around is complicated at times.
- Very aged style of visuals and poor lighting do not offer much visual attraction.
- A very short game which is easily completed in a 40 minute session.
- Very basic, despite clear room for bigger things given the very strong setting.
- Not a game which offers much incentive or desire to play through again.