The Humble Bundle is a great way to pick up a few indie games for not a lot of cash while directly supporting developer’s and charity, too. It also serves to bring indie games to a wider audience, introducing players to titles they otherwise would have never discovered.
That’s how I came to be in possession of Thirty Flights of Loving, the first-person interactive story video game from Blendo Games. Initially released as a Kickstarter incentive, Thirty Flights of Loving has since been made available for download on its own and has received heaps of praise as an impressive evolution in video game storytelling.
Climb the Stairs
Your entrance into the world of Thirty Flights of Loving is pretty nondescript. You learn how to move around–good old WASD–and how to use your mouse to look around. There’s some stuff to see when you’re starting out but not much to do. You’re in a boring hallway, in a boring bar under a prohibition order, and everyone’s looking at you. Then you straighten a painting on the wall, and times starts seriously to pass.
Everything is presented from a first-person point of view, and the game works like a point-and-click adventure. Pick up objects and interact with them, though you’ll soon find many objects are red herrings, able to be picked up and put into the player’s “inventory” but are not usable beyond that. There’s a lot to see and do, but you have very little choice in what actually happens. You’ll soon discover the eventual outcome is inevitable.
Thirty Flights is a sequel to Gravity Bone and something of a continuation of that story, but there’s no need to have played the other one first. You see the world through the eyes of Abel, an alcohol smuggler, but you’ll never see Abel. Abel’s two partners are Borges, the forger returning from Gravity Bone, and Anita, a demolitions expert. Without giving too much away, and it’s hard not to give too much away in a game this short, our protagonists are up to no good. I mean, they’re working out of a secret room hidden behind a false wall panel, so they’re not exactly girl scouts.
The story of Thirty Flights is non-linear, told in chunks out of order. It’s up to you to put the pieces together. Even when two story snippets are told in order, there’s often time missing between the two, like when Abel is running through the airport with Borges and then suddenly finds himself at the exit. The time jumps increase the suspense not only because it forces the player to put together the pieces of the story, but also because it keeps the player on the back foot, never knowing where the game will jump next.
An Interactive Story
Depending on how you define “video game,” Thirty Flights may not fit that definition. The player makes very few choices and cannot affect the outcome of this game. There are no right or wrong moves; there’s no game over. Everything you do pushes the story forward, because you can only perform the actions Thirty Flights allows. Thirty Flights is inevitably pushing you forward to a conclusion, and nothing you do will change that.
Probably a better description for Thirty Flights is “visual novel.” A story is being told to you, and while you certainly aid in progressing events, it’s not your story and you can’t affect anything that’s happening. That’s okay, though. There’s a really good story being told here. It’s exciting and mysterious, and it’s easy to become engrossed in the interactions of the characters as you learn about what happens to them in drips and drabs.
Video Games as Art
You can’t ignore graphics when talking about Thirty Flights. Everything’s sort of blocky, especially the people. They all have giant cubes for heads, but whereas non-story characters all look pretty much the same, Anita and Borges have detailed faces with nuanced expressions that change with the circumstances. You immediately know that you belong with them, because they look at you with recognition and even warmth. It’s sort of amazing to experience a game that can evoke so much emotion with such ungainly graphics.
That’s not to say Thirty Flights doesn’t look good, though. The character design of the NPCs and the way you move through the environment give the game a surreal feeling. The first two characters you meet are identical, staring back at you with blank faces and signalling that you’ve entered a dream state. The time shifts don’t detract from Thirty Flights’ trance-like state, either, giving the player the sense of waking and returning to a dream over and over. In a key flashback, all of the characters except you and Anita drift upwards as they sway around each other, blurring the lines between reality and hallucination.
For a short game, over in about fifteen minutes, Thirty Flights of Loving sure does pack a punch. You’re immediately drawn into the story and want to uncover the what happens to Abel, Anita, and Borges. Every move you make brings you closer to discovering what’s in store for our smugglers and what they mean to each other. It’s entirely engrossing, right up until the very end.
Included with the game is the prequel Gravity Bone and a version of Thirty Flights with developer’s commentary, so while short, you’ve got some bonus content to make the game worth a replay almost as soon as you’re done. Even without the commentary, you’re likely going to want to give Thirty Flights at least one more run through, just to gaze in wonder at all the stuff you missed the first time and to try to piece together the puzzle of the story. Thirty Flights of Loving really is that compelling, a sensational achievement for a such a brief experience.
And hey, it’s still in this week’s Humble Bundle for just over 30 hours after this is published, so if you hurry, you can still get it for less than $5 with 3 other games.