|Developer||Mez Breeze, Andy Campbell|
|Publisher||Mez Breeze Design, One To One Developments, The Space|
|Release Date||February 17, 2017|
Review code provided
All The Delicate Duplicates is a first-person narrative game that casts players as John, a single father to Charlotte, who has inherited a collection of really weird objects from his mysterious relative Mo. These objects seemingly change their proportions at random. As players explore John’s house through three different time zones, they’ll be offered glimpses into John’s past, his relationship with Charlotte and her growing fascination with these strange objects.
I’ve got to be honest, All The Delicate Duplicates has really thrown me for a loop. Even attempting to describe what the game is about has seen me re-write this paragraph more times than I care to admit. I knew it was a strange game from my time with it at EGX last year, but I’m not sure I was prepared for a game so mind-bending. The most basic way I can think to describe All The Delicate Duplicates is that it’s a bit like Gone Home. On an acid trip.
Any discussion of the themes and plot points of the game would be counter-productive. All The Delicate Duplicates lives and dies by its narrative. There are parts of the game that I understood (or think I understood) and there are parts that I can’t make heads or tails of. As a work of transmedia fiction the game also comes with a healthy amount of backstory in the form of short stories, which can be both illuminating or throw up more questions than answers.
It begins with something fairly benign, at least by the game’s standards, as you’re presented with the scene of a car that has crashed into a phone booth. From there the game takes you on a surreal, nonlinear journey through John’s memories of his home and some of the bigger events that have taken place in his life, as well as the life of his daughter.
The game plays out like a fevered dream. In fact, if you can remember your last dream that took parts of your real life memories as inspiration, you’re probably pretty close to imagining just what it’s like to experience All The Delicate Duplicates. Dream logic is king here. You can skip between timelines at will, jumping back and forth between 2006, 2011 and 2016.
Exploring the house is the main meat of the gameplay. There are plenty of clues scattered around these three time periods, which serve as windows into the lives of its main characters. Rather than feed you exposition and dialogue and cutscenes, All The Delicate Duplicates takes the opposite approach – giving you just enough information to piece together the story, as long as you’re willing to dig through the game and find it.
Big events are tied to important objects. By finding them, you’re given a (relatively) huge piece of the story. Find them all (at least, I think it was all of them) and you’ll unlock a final scene and some credits. Chances are that when you see the credits there is still a lot to learn about John, Charlotte, Mo and the shrinking glass bottles that have been bequeathed upon them.
It took me a little under thirty minutes to “beat” the game. Once I’d seen the credits I dove right back in, exploring more of the game world, picking up more of the narrative breadcrumbs, combing through the digital short stories that come as part of the package. I also spent ten minutes staring at a weird tentacle thing from every conceivable angle, played a game of hide and seek with giant chess piece and tried to decipher the meaning behind text that seemed like it foretold the apocalypse.
I have no idea what All The Delicate Duplicates is really all about. I have theories and ideas based on what I saw and read in the game. I cannot, however, say with absolute certainty that I know what the game was trying to tell me. I spent a long while trying to piece it together into coherent thought. But when the game itself is incoherently operating on dream logic, presenting its story in such a fascinating and completely barmy way, maybe that’s a fool’s errand to begin with.
Which makes reviewing it a pain in the arse. I know that I enjoyed my time with All The Delicate Duplicates quite a bit. It’s approach to storytelling is novel, placing its narrative threads in a big sandbox for you to find in any order you see fit gives you a feeling of true ownership over the story. It also doesn’t tell you what’s going on at all, rather it asks you to fill in the story for yourself from all the available evidence. Or maybe it’s very explicit and I just didn’t get it.
It’s the game’s use of surreal, occasionally disturbing imagery that will stick with me, though. There’s always a feeling that nothing is quite right in All The Delicate Duplicates. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s because there is a giant tentacle growing out of the floor in the bedroom. It presents this imagery in the same way a dream would – it might not make sense in the “real world” but it’s perfectly logical in the game world. The game combines this imagery with understated sound design, and both work excellently to draw you into the world of the game.
From a gameplay standpoint there’s not really much to talk about here. This is almost pure fiction. You wander around a house and pick stuff up to look at. You can rotate most objects you can interact with, though this is made a little awkward by some slightly unintuitive mouse controls (a controller will fix that right up). The visuals themselves are pretty spectacular, if a bit taxing, with some framerate hitching at one part of the game towards the end.
All The Delicate Duplicates is a very weird game. It’s surreal imagery, understated sound design and fragmented story all combine to create a game that feels like that super strange dream you had that one time. It’s a game that puts its complete trust in its players to find all of the pieces to its puzzle, offering no really conclusive answers to the questions it poses other than those that the players themselves can conjure. For the time that I spent it with, All The Delicate Duplicates really sucked me into its world, as I scrambled to understand the meaning behind the strange images I was seeing and the almost ominous mood I was experiencing. It’s a unique experience and one I can definitely recommend to anyone looking for something a bit more out of the ordinary.
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