Review – The Shattering

I was excited to play The Shattering after seeing a trailer that showed a bizarre and darkly twisted looking game, traits that grab my attention in any sort of art form. It compares itself to What Remains of Edith Finch, a game I really enjoyed, even if I do happened to think it’s a bit overhyped. So I decided to dive into The Shattering and see what it was all about. Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time.

In The Shattering you play as John Evans, a silent protagonist suffering from amnesia following a traumatic event. You awaken in a nearly empty white room, with a mysterious voice speaking to you. The voice tells you he’s a doctor trying to help you recover your lost memories so you can confront the truth about yourself. He swings his watch in front of you, asking you to follow it with your eyes so you can relax and go into a state where you can be more open to your memories. After doing so, you start to examine the room, only to have it shatter and allow you to access the next part of your surreal journey.

The Shattering

This is how your journey starts.

The Shattering is a walking sim and therefore doesn’t have any complicated gameplay mechanics. You’ll walk, run, and interact with objects. It starts off really intriguing, with a creepy mystery as to who you are and what happened to put you into this state, complete with unsettling imagery. After the first two acts however, the enigma overstays its welcome as you ceaselessly search through drawers and closets, with almost nothing of interest to be found that isn’t highlighted in bold blues, reds, and yellows.

This is one of my biggest gripes with many walking sims. Why allow for so much exploration if you’re not going to hide any clues or items that will provide players with a deeper insight into the world around you? The Spectrum Retreat comes to mind as game that was able to provide players with a good reason for thoroughly exploring everything, without wasting too much of our time doing so. Even some amusing nods and easter eggs to other games and inspirations are appreciated, like those found in Infliction. I probably wasted a total of forty minutes needlessly searching for things of relevance in The Shattering before realizing that there was no point. That’s significant chunk of time considering this game only takes about three or so hours to complete.

The Shattering

The closest thing you’ll find to something relevant that’s “hidden” in this game are articles on the backs of newspapers.

The Shattering markets itself as a psychological horror, but there’s nothing scary to be found in here. There are no monsters or evil entities, just memories of a traumatic past presented with some mildly disturbing imagery. There were a few times that it seemed like it was ramping up to something big and shocking, but nothing really happened until the very end. Even then, it tries to throw a big revealing twist at you, but if you’ve played a fair amount of walking sims or horror games, you’ll see it coming a mile away. It reminds me of another game I recently reviewed called Draugen, that fell into this same trap while also dealing with themes of mental illness. It’s a shame too because the idea for this game is actually quite compelling.

The Shattering

Mom, you look different today.

Around the halfway point, most of the creep factor dissipates and you’re left to slog through a more traditional walking sim. This is where the already slow burn of the game grinds to a halt until about the last fifteen minutes or so. By then it’s already too late and you’re just praying for it to end soon. There’s also a lot of unnecessary walking back and forth through rooms and long linear hallways for no real reason other than to give the player more of an illusion that they’re actually doing something. This is especially apparent in the fourth act, which is just downright maddening.

At least when you’re meandering through this game, you’ll have beautiful things to look at. The Shattering is a very visually appealing game. It has small set pieces that are rendered in high definition and detail. It makes clever use of fragmented sections against stark white backgrounds to not overcomplicate the environment and to further illustrate that you are looking through the splintered memories of a troubled mind. The graphics and the attention to detail are by far this game’s strongest aspect.

Desktop Screenshot 2020.04.23 - 16.11.36.69

The fractured environments are a great touch and further illustrate the broken mind of our protagonist.

The sound design is fairly decent all around. There are only a few voice actors, but they are convincing enough in their roles to be believable. It has a predominantly ambient musical score so as not to overpower the discoveries you’re making, but it’s nothing to write home about. There a few instances in which an old classic tune will play in the background when accompanying certain memories and these times helped to increase the creep factor. Then again, maybe it’s largely due to the fact that it evokes strong similarities to The Shining in those cases. It certainly seems to draw some inspiration from it at a couple points.

The Shattering

Don’t mind if do.

The Shattering is a game that unfortunately suffers from a lot of the same problems as a lot of other walking sims and psychological horror games. It has a good premise and gorgeous details in the explorable areas, but it has too many pointless things to interact with, no payoff for thorough exploration, nothing hidden beneath the surface, terrible pacing, and tedious level designs. I absolutely love the idea behind it, but unfortunately it quickly loses all steam and interest before too long. There are plenty of other walking sims that are more worth your time.

 

Graphics: 9.0

This is a beautiful game with realistic graphics and a clever use of minimalistic environments.

Gameplay: 5.0

It’s a walking sim, so there’s not much to the gameplay beyond walking, running, and clicking on objects. The layout of some levels seem overly tedious with little exploratory payoff.

Sound: 7.0

The soundtrack mainly consists of a few old timey songs and some unmemorable ambient music. The few voice acting performances are decent.

Fun Factor: 6.0

The Shattering is definitely a slow burn of a game. It has an interesting premise, but it takes forever to get going. Some of the levels are extremely monotonous.

Final Verdict: 6.5

The Shattering is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of The Shattering was provided by the publisher.