Review – The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories
If you’ve ever played a Swery65 game you know what to expect: a weird but compelling gameplay experience. From the absolute insanity that was D4 to the bizarre as hell Deadly Premonition, it’s safe to say you’re in for a strange yet fascinating time. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is Swery’s latest effort, one that is unexpectedly much darker and more serious than his other games, but that doesn’t mean he has dropped his unusual additions that makes his games so recognizable. This is very much a Swery game.
You play as J.J., a young woman who has gone on a camping trip with her best friend Emily. Overnight, Emily goes missing and while searching for her, things get much darker as J.J. is brutally killed in an accident. She wakes up seemingly unable to die and must set out on a journey to find Emily, no matter how much pain she has to endure.
The game opens with a message: “This game was made with the belief that nobody is wrong for being what they are.” It’s primarily a story about identity and figuring out who you are despite what other people think. It also tackles some major themes such as self-harm, depression, and suicide. Themes that most games would try to avoid, whereas The Missing tackles them head on with confidence. The hell J.J. puts herself through to find Emily is an emotional one and a story that had me engaged from beginning to end.
It takes a while for it to get moving and while some plot points are predictable, others aren’t at all. Then it all comes together for an emotional roller-coaster of an ending that subverted my expectations nicely. A big chunk of the story is delivered through text messages with various characters. It might seems a bit disjointed at first, but as the story progresses it feels like the best way to flesh out the characters.
Visually there isn’t a lot going on. The art style and character models are very interesting and stand out a lot. There’s a lot of variety to the locations, taking you from a campsite to a diner and even a construction site. The environments themselves look really nice at first glance, but some textures look a little low resolution or flat.
The sound design is interesting. The voice acting ranges from pretty bad to serviceable, but there’s not a awful lot of dialogue so it’s never overly distracting. Thankfully the rest of the sound design really stands out. Hearing the screams of J.J. several hours in is still haunting.
Death doesn’t work in the traditional way in The Missing. Instead, when you take damage you will start losing your limbs or breaking your bones, impacting how you move and interact with the world. All the damage you take has it’s own benefits, but there’s some serious drawbacks as well. Snap your neck and the world turns upside down, cut off an arm and you can pick it up with your other hand, but you won’t be able to move heavy objects. You regenerate back to full health with a push of the button and you will only fully restart when you take damage as just a head. When restarting, the game just fades to black and puts you at the beginning of a section. It’s a shame they couldn’t think of an in-game excuse to put you at the start.
This isn’t just some gimmick, the puzzles and level design revolve completely around it. You will constantly need to hurt J.J in brutal and really disturbing ways. One of the earliest examples of this is having the cut off most of your body parts to balance a beam, allowing you to crawl across. Then as the game goes on, the suffering J.J. has to go through keeps getting worse. It’s one of those instances where a gameplay mechanic blends perfectly with the story. Even a few hours in, I wanted to avoid taking damage whenever possible.
For the vast majority of the time the puzzles are incredibly well designed, requiring you to constantly learn new ways to use your abilities. However, there were a couple of instances where I just felt lost and was stumbling around looking for the solution. To add a little variety to the puzzles, there’s a couple of chase sequences sprinkled in throughout for good measure. They usually have you getting chased by a hair demon thing. It’s easy to get away, but that doesn’t make them any less fun.
Like I said earlier, this is still very much a Swery game. The collectibles are donuts for no apparent reason and there’s a character that follows you around wearing a deer head and dressed like a doctor whilst making noises and saying what seems to be random words. Text conversations play out with over the top emoji’s that convey the characters messages and there’s an awfully charming damage meter at the top left when you get hurt. It may be a more serious game in its narrative, but there’s still some goofy features that I appreciate.
I did experience a few annoying bugs and some instances where I was forced to restart a chapter. There’s also some really bad framerate drops and temporary freezing that seems to happen even when there’s not much going on. It isn’t too bad, but it is still worth noting since it did happen during a key story moment.
In the rare instance that you die or restart checkpoint, you are typically placed before unskippable dialogue sequences and cutscenes. My first playthrough took me around seven to eight hours with half of the collectibles. This could vary vastly depending on how fast you can figure out the puzzles. Beyond that there’s not much to see, the collectibles unlock more text messages and give you access to alternative costumes and a couple of cheats.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is an emotional roller coaster tied together with unique gameplay mechanics and solid level designs. This is Swery’s best work yet.
Great visual design let down by some poor textures, frame drops, and occasional freezing
A great blend of core mechanics and brilliant level design.
Mixed voice acting and a soundtrack that is decent, but not memorable.
An emotional story with great gameplay mechanics make this an absolute joy to play.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Reviewed on Xbox One.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
A copy of The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories was provided by the publisher.