First-Person Puzzle Platformer
Metamorphosis is a video game loosely inspired by the story of the same name by Bohemian author Franz Kafka. When I received my review copy of this game, I, of course, understood that making the leap from an early 20th-century novella to an early 21st-century video game would necessitate some artistic liberties, but what developer Ovid Works have created bears nothing but the most surface-level similarity to the original work.
The basic premise of both game and novella is that salesman Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find himself transformed into an insect, but where Kafka’s novella is a melancholic reflection on the way that modern socio-economic structures – namely capitalism – alienate us even from our very bodies, Metamorphosis the game attempts to be a somewhat more light-hearted and whimsical quest for Gregor to try and become human again with only occasional commentary on the inefficiencies of bureaucratic systems. Even these, however, are undercut by Gregor himself participating in bureaucracy with something approaching eagerness.
Understand, dear reader, that I describe Gregor’s attitude in such uncertain terms because the story elements of this game are unclear at best and poorly designed at worst. The pacing of the story is very unpleasant and what little exposition is given does little to explain any of the actual events, leaving the player confused and frustrated with the plot unfolding before them, and no one aspect receives proper focus or exploration. To an extent, I think the confusing and bizarre nature of the story is intentional, an attempt to match the absurdist tone present in much of Kafka’s work. However, Metamorphosis’ failure to properly meet Kafka’s ideas leads to the tone coming across as less Kafkaesque and more Carollian – in other words, the writers overshot the proper degree of absurdity and did not focus enough on using that absurdity to highlight their themes. Moreover, the delivery of the attempted humor falls flat, and even as a Carollian work, it is not especially enjoyable.
Perhaps I am being too harsh in judging Metamorphosis by the quality of its writing. While I believe you cannot intentionally invoke one of the most prominent authors of the 20th century without inviting thematic criticism, I am also willing to concede that there are other aspects of Metamorphosis to focus on since it is, after all, a video game. Unfortunately, the gameplay of Metamorphosis does not salvage the experience. The game itself is a first-person puzzle platformer with a somewhat loose sense of the word puzzle. Solving the levels tends to come down to little more than figuring out what the path forward is or where the nearest puddle of sticky fluid is that will allow the player to temporarily climb walls – one of about three gameplay mechanics. Though I was initially intrigued by the level design and the fact of the game’s first-person perspective, the repetitive platforming and traversal became tedious. Even though the game is only three or four hours long, I was glad to be done with it at the end.
To make things worse, the gameplay is marred by (if you’ll pardon the pun) bugs. At one point I was unable to climb walls without the camera becoming almost completely uncontrollable and making things much harder on me than they needed to be. This coincided with my being teleported around platforms in a very specific and disorienting way that further complicated my efforts to move forward in the game until I quit and reloaded. I initially thought that this might have been intentional, as there was an earlier instance where the bug’s-eye view led to an interesting and amusing occurrence, but I am now certain it was simply a glitch. At another point, there was a level where you could fall off the platforms and be caught by some magic paper and taken back to safety instead of falling to your death as in any other part of the game – an odd but not bad design choice, except for the fact that at one point I was taken all the way back to the beginning of the level in this way and had to go through almost everything all over again.
Long story short, Metamorphosis is not an enjoyable experience. Attempting to adapt classical literature into a playable format is always a gamble, and in this case, it did not pay off at all.
Metamorphosis has a story that will frustrate literature geeks, confuse everyone else, and isn't fun to play besides.