Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Braid (Xbox 360)

I'd heard good things about Braid, so I snatched the demo up as soon as it became available last Wednesday. I was immediately surprised by the visual presentation. In static screenshots you don't really see the constant motion going on in the background that gives the game a surrealistic painted quality. It's subtle but really beautiful. But the first level included in the trial didn't knock my socks off from a gameplay perspective. So far the game had only shown me relatively straightforward platforming, and if I hadn't hear so much praise for Braid I probably would have left it at that. Thankfully I trusted in the good things I'd heard about the game and slapped down $15 for the full version so I could see more.

I'm glad I did, because Braid is the most mind bending experience I've had since Portal. And if you've played Portal you know how strong of a statement that is.

In each world of Braid time behaves differently. There's this one world where your character's position in physical space maps to everyone else's passage through time. If you move to the right, time move forwards for them; if you move to the left, time rewinds. This in itself is enough to make your head explode, but then on top of that different objects exist in different timelines, some which you can rewind and some you can't. Later in the game you split out your shadow out to walk in a parallel timeline, where you work together with it to gather keys and hit switches. And then later you gain the ability to manually place a time distortion bubble. It's nuts.

The puzzles in this game require you to think about time and space in ways that you never have before. The solutions are generally never very difficult to execute and are made easier by the fact that you can rewind your timeline. It's kind of like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, except you can rewind as much as you want, as long as you want, and at whatever speed you want. So the difficulty isn't in the execution, it's in getting your mind to wrap around concepts it has never confronted before. Which is the best kind of puzzle game.

But Braid doesn't try to be just a puzzle game. It actually has a story. It's true that after having gathered all the puzzle pieces and completed the story I can't quite admit to having the closure that my Closure achievement tells me I have, but I do appreciate that someone really tried to turn this puzzle game into something more. The music, the visuals, and the story all work together to create a truly unique experience. Yes, it's $5 more than Geometry Wars, and I probably will play Geometry Wars for longer. But Braid is one of those singular experiences where video games cross into the territory of art and leaves you with something truly memorable.

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