I can only imagine how scary it is to put yourself out there when releasing an indie game. Doubly so if your game is a passion project with biographical overtones and then tenfold if those tones include themes of mental anguish.
That’s what Separation is; a meditation on incarceration with depression and the journey to free yourself of it. And, while I admire much of what developer Recluse Industries wants to convey here, Separation is often too tedious an adventure to readily recommend.
You awaken to a curious kind of wasteland, featuring an amalgamation of crumbling castle scenery and scientific research facilities. A soft, slightly sinister whispered voice of an imprisoned spirit guides you through the desert in search of Sorrows – husks of human figures, scorched to statues from what looks like some sort of nuclear fallout. The entire scene carries the air of a bomb site that ripped through reality itself, converging timelines and leaving them in one distorted mess.
It makes for often stunning scenery, with a color palette and mood that owe an obvious debt to PS2 cult hit, Ico. Pasty white cliff faces occasionally flicker with passing rays of sunlight while the wind whips your ears, and timid footsteps onto creaking metal walkways echo out into the chasms beyond. It was enough to make me want to reach out and take hold of a rusty handrail, to feel the authenticity just as much as I saw and heard it. Notably, though, the game can only be played with a DualShock 4.
But, while taking in Separation’s melancholic world can sometimes result in delight, interacting with it and traversing through it are both considerably less enjoyable. Much of the game is simply spent walking, sailing or flying through the relatively small wasteland to erect towers, connecting a series of beams. The space, you could argue, is there for contemplation and relaxation, but the gap between significant events and changes in pace is often so long you’ll find yourself wrestling with boredom more than anything else.
With a little more structure and focus, it might be possible to glean deeper meaning out of all this ambiguity, but Separation is often quite happy to let you wander quite far away from what you’re actually meant to be doing before realizing you need to turn back. Even with the short 2 – 3 hour run time, it’s pretty easy to lose a lot of time in this desert, mulling around in a fight against an exhaustion second only to being stuck in a real wasteland. It doesn’t help that the gaze-based controls offer up a real battle when, say, trying to turn a valve.
Everything in the game insists on huffing and heaving in its interaction, as if it’s just woken up from a deep sleep and needs to remember how to start churning its gears once more. Again, it’s authentic, but it’s a pain to work with. The game’s handful of save points, for example, can only be used once each, which at one point cost me 20 minutes of progress when a collision bug with an elevator left me stuck.
It’s a shame, as there is imagery that will burn itself to memory here. An enormous colossus, toppled over into the desert sand, lingers over you from afar as it spies on your movements, while one Husk buried far off in the map still burns, its silent movements proving to be quietly uncomfortable. But you’ll need real motivation to see all of these sights, especially when the game eventually tasks you with finding any missing Husks via a hot air balloon, fighting with the murky draw distance and slippery controls.
And that, I suppose, is why Separation left me feeling apathetic to its interesting themes. Ultimately its world, itself left cold and sterile, had me feeling much the same. I suppose, perhaps, I should consider myself lucky not to be able to decipher too much from it portrayals of suffering. But, after a few hours spent with Separation, I find myself struggling to say much at all.
Separation PSVR Review Final Verdict:
Separation is a game with something to say, it just spends too long trying to say it. While I wanted to fall for its wistful mountain climbs and poignant canyon descents, I became too frustrated with its tedious core treasure hunt to stop and pay its wider implications much mind. I suspect that some will make those connections, lost in the game’s alluring fog, but many more will be done with this pilgrimage long before it’s over.
Final Score: 2/5 Stars | Disappointing