NORTH can be categorized as a walking simulator where you take on the role of a man who has journeyed across the desert northwards to apply for asylum in a mega-city filled with strange creatures and customs. As with any walking-sim game, the game-play is straightforward and mostly consists of exploration, interacting with a few objects/creatures, and solving a few puzzles here and there. NORTH also blends together themes such as sci-fi, cyberpunk, and social commentary to deliver an evocative experience. It deals with contemporary issues such as the refugee crisis whilst still maintaining that dark cyberpunk/sci-fi atmosphere a la Blade Runner or even the 1927 Metropolis movie. The themes outlined above are a huge undertaking for any medium, but does NORTH accomplish what many fail to do? Let’s find out.
Evocative Experience: As previously mentioned, the game manages to evoke many feelings while exploring and interacting with the many objects/creatures in the dark mega-city. The use of the color black provides a sense of neo-noir but at the same time also conveys that you are in an unfamiliar environment. While the intentional use of the color black makes it hard to remember locations and to see where you are or going, it also concretes the dread and stress the character is feeling. The languages, customs, buildings, creatures are all unusual and the buildings are also very close together almost to the point of being claustrophobic. Everything is intentionally crafted this way to impart the hardships that refugees go through to give the same sense of unease while exploring different areas to the player.
Great Synth-pop Music: The game is also accompanied by a very well done synth-pop soundtrack. The soundtrack reminded me of movies like Blade Runner. It’s really hard to describe the music but I believe it shouldn’t be understood through reading but through listening to it first hand. The opening scene of the game is a prime example of what is in store for you throughout the game. When I first heard it, I instantly knew I would enjoy the music. However, the music in this game is too few and far between so don’t get your hopes up in being caressed by great tracks, consistently.
Achievements/Trophies: The achievement/trophies are very straightforward. Although there are one or two missables, this is quickly fixed by following a video guide. The game is short and cheap too. This is a definitely a game for those who are interested in these kinds of things. You will be supporting the developers and will be getting an evocative experience out of it, not to mention the increase in gamerscore and trophies.
Too Short: Sadly, there aren’t any more positives I can talk about which is truly a shame. The first detriment of the game is that it is too short as it can be completed in about 30 minutes with a guide. Without the use of a guide, it would most likely take 40 minutes to an hour. Most of the time I spent playing this game was idling by while I waited for the video guide to catch up, examine what I had to do, pause the video, and emulate what I just saw. So, realistically, it’s more of a 20-30 minute game. However, the game only costs a few bucks and that is justifiable for the length of it. The title is too short to flesh out any of the characters, world, culture, atmosphere and is, quite frankly, very disappointing. I would have loved to see more of the idea of exploring contemporary issues which is uncommon within the video game medium.
Confusing Puzzles & Not Enough Instruction: While this may be a side effect of not reading the letters that you receive informing you of where to go, I found the puzzles to be confusing. Take the police puzzle, for instance, as the player is presented with a dozen pictures and is instructed to either press a red or green button. The idea is to identify possible terrorists (from what the video guide told me) by looking at various pictures. Children were always innocent whereas adults may have the possibility of being a terrorist. Once correctly identified, you will have to press green to allow asylum or red to deny it. While this shows what might happen during an application for asylum and evokes frustration, which is great mechanically for what the game tries to do, the puzzles do not give you any insight on what you are supposed to do. A puzzle should test your intelligence and problem solving skills, not your patience until you get it right through trial-and-error.
Mundane Game-play: The game-play is really bare-bones, rudimentary, and mundane. All that the player is required, as with many walking-sims, is to walk to a point of interest, interact with an item/person, and walk to the next point of interest. There is the odd puzzle, which was outlined above, but that cannot be classified as a true puzzle. In comparison, games like What Remains of Edith Finch diversifies the gaming experience by always introducing new storytelling mediums. In one story you will be a girl who dreams of being a hawk soaring through the skies hunting rabbits, then being transformed to a nimble cat platforming it’s way across tree branches and finally becoming a snake using stealth to hunt and eat sailors on a boat. Another story sees you become a baby playing in a bath tub with your rubber animals (I wont spoil this one). Another one allows you to take control of a character in a comic book whilst the narrator commentates and advances the story. All of these mediums used are always different and really enjoyable to play with. They are welcoming and refreshing as you will never know what the next story will be or how it will be told. You can clearly see the primitive game-play features and mechanics in NORTH when comparing these two games together. It truly is a shame that the game-play is very lackluster, uninteresting, and uninspiring as it would’ve been far superior and more enjoyable if it was more interactive and longer to flesh out the characters and the world. Additionally, the game doesn’t even feature an options screen to adjust the much needed contrast/brightness to make the gaming experience more enjoyable. However, this might’ve been done intentionally to cause frustration and anxiety within the player to emulate what the asylum seekers feel when immigrating to different, unfamiliar places.
Boring, Vanilla Controls: The controls are what you come to expect of a run-of-the-mill walking-sim: left-stick walks, right-stick turns the camera, and A/X button interacts. The D-pad is also used in this game but is much more inclusive towards the elevators. When entering elevators, you will press a direction on the D-pad to go to the corresponding floor. That is it. There is no fast-run/sprint and jump button which should be a mandatory staple in walking-sims. You do pick up a few items in your playthroughs but there isn’t an inventory button either. Moreover, the camera is sluggish so a quick 90/180 degree turn would be great or an option to adjust the camera speed. Although a jump button isn’t necessary, having the option of jumping would be an appreciated feature as not many walking-sim titles give you the option of jumping. Whilst the controls are functional, it is very tiring not seeing the much needed buttons outlined above.
NORTH, for me, is another forgettable walking-sim. I appreciate the idea of exploring contemporary issues within video games but it is too short to flesh out any of the characters, world, atmosphere etc. It sets out to elicit feelings within you and, I must say, that it accomplishes this. I understood what the main character was going through. The unfamiliar landscape, people, customs and language was confounding for me. I had no idea what I was doing or what I had to do. NORTH is style over substance and I believe it would have been better if it was longer or had more refreshing game-play mechanics. Moreover, the dreary, black, monotone color palette hinders the game-play as I couldn’t see where I was going some of the time and makes it hard to remember locations. The lack of much needed features like a fast walk/sprint button also detract from the overall gaming experience. It should be a mandatory staple in walking-sims and not seeing it is very disheartening. Ultimately, the cheap cost of the game will decide whether you play it or give it a miss.
NORTH was developed by Outlands and published by Sometimes You. It was released for Xbox One [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC on March 6th, 2018. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.