You know, games teach us a lot of things. They teach us to kill everything we see, to ignore the rules of society and to pick off our victims from the shadows, like a strangely intelligent and rabid bat. Sometimes, I'm a bat with a sniper rifle. And that's why it's illegal for me to go outside on Halloween.
Maybe the most important thing that games teach us is to think critically and examine everything we see carefully. That's the strength of Spot the Difference, the latest offering from the dream team of Brian Mooney and Sean Hawkes. Personally, I've been following their exploits for years, ever since I first discovered One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others in high school. Needless to say, they don't disappoint with their newest game.
Spot the Difference features an innovative dual-screen interface. On one side, a picture. On the other, the same picture — or is it? That conflict drives the whole game, just like the decision of whether or not to kill the Little Sisters drove Bioshock. In fact, Bioshock's influence is really obvious at times, as Spot the Difference is just as ethically complex. As the game goes on, you'll find yourself doubting your own senses, wondering if you can trust the game's reality. In fact, the only flaw I encountered was that sometimes this existentialism went a little far; often I found myself staring at the screen for hours, eventually clicking on a pixel that seemed to move before realizing that it was the reflection of my own face in my monitor.
I was particularly impressed with Hawkes' UI. The game clones your mouse pointer, so that your mouse movements are reflected in both windows. Like chess, Spot the Difference is easy to pick up and hard to master. The number of differences still in the pictures is always shown in the top left corner of the panel: later in the game, you'll find yourself clicking frantically to get all the differences before, well, you'll just have to see for yourself. The walkthrough is always available from the bottom of the screen, glowing like a reassuring pumpkin in the October night. But you won't need it after the first level, because the gameplay will grip you like a vise.
The game's story is subtle and engaging, communicated entirely through differences in the images you're given. At first, it's just a test of your perception. But after a particularly tricky river-themed level, you're contacted by Alana, your mute character's female counterpart. She, too, is trapped in a room, being forced to spot the differences between pictures — but to what sinister end? I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll say nothing more than this: April Fools.