Repressed's strong art style and promise of interesting and unique puzzles is undermined by dull, empty moments and too much use of trial and error.
Indie developers have often used platformers to try and tell interesting stories. Games such as Braid (with that stunning twist ending) and Thomas Was Alone have been able to create impactful storytelling experiences, calling on genres and play styles that have sometimes been forgotten in the AAA space. Repressed is another attempt to get players thinking, albeit this time in the 3D platforming genre rather than its traditional 2D variant.
Repressed comes from developer Sigur Studio, and acts a deep dive into the subconscious. The player is a shadow within their own mind, exploring a landscape of memories to try and uncover their own history. All the while, their psychologist chimes in with a commentary, as the mysteries begin to unfold.
Most obvious thing to note about Repressed is that it is visually very striking, with a devotion to angles that fans of Control's design will appreciate. The game is primarily monochrome, with platforms made up of white and black acting for the cavernous depths of the mind. The only sparks of color come from flashes of red, marking memories or interactive buttons. It’s definitely eye-catching, particularly the way the player shadow’s head can change depending on the memories they have recently discovered.
This artistic choice is more than just a stylistic one, as this monochrome is actually an intrinsic part of the gameplay experience. The black shadows are an empty void, a drop into which the player will fall if they make a wrong step. Navigating the world of Repressed makes for some interesting gameplay moments that generally match up with the themes of the game as a whole.
Repressed’s gameplay works well when it comes to thinking outside of the box, and working on how to rearrange the world and its shadows. This could mean pushing a button to move platforms, making a previous shadow now accessible. Alternatively, it could be using one of the tools to rotate the world, removing some shadows altogether and making new pathways.
At its best Repressed makes the player utilize the space made available through the use of the video game medium. If something looks impassable, a shift of the camera angle might actually reveal a new pathway or ramp that was previously hidden. A button on a far-away platform could be accessed by moving further away and above, allowing the player’s shadow to reach down onto the platform below.
When Repressed is on form it’s a fun puzzle game with an interesting art style. Following in the footsteps of other games that understand how to do something special with visual design, such as indie darling Hue, Repressed certainly has its moments where everything clicks. Unfortunately there is a lack of consistency that means it does not always use the potential it has at its disposal.
Repressed suffers when it comes to pacing and balance. It’s not difficult, and players will get through it in no time at all, but there are moments where the player will be left walking with nothing much to do other than enjoy the minimalism on show. Given how barren Repressed is, that novelty can wear off quickly.
There’s also far too much trial and error within its puzzles, particularly when it comes to revolving the world to shift shadows around. The player’s actions can often impact on areas of the map that are out of view, meaning that the outcome of turning the world isn’t discovered until the player has walked away from their means of trying again. Developers never want players to get puzzles right first time, and players themselves will find taxing puzzles more rewarding to solve, but there’s a difference between that and stretching out the world with even more walking.
From a story perspective Repressed doesn’t quite hold up either: Sea of Solitude it is not. The core concept, of travelling the maze of the subconscious to uncover repressed memories, is an interesting one, but in practice it all seems a bit too generic. There’s a lot of violence and sadness to be found in the dark recesses of the mind, but it’s never handled with enough depth or care to truly engage the player. More memories can be uncovered with repeat playthroughs as the player tries to find all of the cues strewn across the chapters, but they might be wondering if there’s much point in doing so.
It’s a shame, because Repressed ends with the most cohesive union of its mechanics, via a final chapter that tests the player on everything they have learned alongside the added tension of dropping floor tiles. This increase in challenge also ups the excitement, but these moments are unfortunately brief across the run of the game.
Repressed is a unique idea with clever visuals, and that can go a long way in video games. When it comes to gameplay, though, Repressed is very patchy with regards to putting out top tier quality puzzles, with long stretches of ambling through the ether. Added to a story that doesn’t do anything fresh within its hidden memories, Repressed feels like something of a missed opportunity.
Repressed is available for PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.