Tyler Glaiel, the programming and musical composition half of the team behind Aether, has released an amazing new platform-puzzle game with a unique look and gripping, oppressive atmosphere. Closure is yet more proof that accessible browser games can be used to tell stories—memorable, expressive stories with layers of metaphysical depth. The exciting thing about Closure is that it's not much like anything you've played before; but the brilliant thing is that it functions perfectly well as a technically impressive puzzle game with dynamic background music and some tricky timing/jumping challenges, without anybody needing to worry about its meaning. It's a pretty onion, even if you don't peel it.
The trouble with writing about a game like Closure is that a large part of the game's value is in discovering it. Mind you, I'm going to write about it anyway, so my advice is to STOP READING RIGHT NOW AND PLAY THE GAME. SERIOUSLY, YOU WILL SPOIL YOUR EXPERIENCE IF YOU READ ANOTHER WORD. DROP YOUR EYEBALLS AND STEP AWAY FROM THE ARTICLE. I'M NOT EVEN GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT THE CONTROLS ARE.
Okay, that's a little unfair. Here's the controls and a basic summary of the gameplay. BUT REMEMBER I WARNED YOU. I WAAAAARNED YOOOOOOOOOUU. Walk around with [left] and [right], jump or go through doors with [up], pick up and put down objects with [down] or [space]. If you get stuck, restart the current level with [R] (for Restart), [K] (for Kill), or [enter] (for um… Enter the level… again… or something…). Your goal in each area is to reach a door and walk through it. The problem is the fact that the walls and ground are only solid while illuminated, which means that you'll have to carry around orbs of light if you enjoy walking on solid earth, as opposed to falling through an endless abyss of nothingness for eternity and forever.
Once again, play the game before you read the analysis bit. Most of what I have to say won't even make sense until you've finished all 30 stages. I'll try not to spoil the storyline, but still, it's best to have a personal reaction to this game, and you cannot unsee what you have seeEEeen (wiggly spooky fingers). It's a fairly large (7Mb) load, but I think you'll find that the wait is worth it. Your progress will be saved automatically, and you can choose to start at any level you've completed if you reload the game.
Analysis: The only real letdown here is in the actual platforming. Jumping is inconsistent while going down slopes, and sometimes it's hard to tell when a wall will block you or support you. Although each puzzle has a logical solution, the physics may not consistently work the way you expect, leading to some trial-and-error deaths and restarts. There is often a sense that you can glitch your way to the exit without finding a proper solution. None of this is so bad that it ruins the game, but it can be enough to occasionally break your involvement.
Everything else, though, is remarkable. Closure tells a complete story almost entirely without language. There is a smattering of text in the game, but it mostly exists to introduce the controls and accent the atmosphere. Everything else, including the ambiguous ending, is done through Jon Schubbe's stark and deliberately primitive background artwork. The main character drawing reminds me of Alberto Giacometti's sculptures, in the sense that it resembles not the human figure but the shadow that is cast—which of course is your first clue as to what is happening in the game.
This is a perfect marriage of genre and concept—illness, coma, or any other dramatically altered state of consciousness can leave you cycling through psychological loops, struggling to make incremental breakthroughs which may or may not have any bearing on the real, physical world. Very much like a puzzle game.
The graphic style resembles a film negative, either under-exposed or over-exposed depending on the conditions, which reflects the reality of the protagonist's situation. When you are sick, because of illness or in this case, violence, you may retreat into a world of pure consciousness, populated by memories and fleeting images of your surroundings. Your mental world exists only insomuch as you are able to cast your attention on it, and that is your struggle here: to shed light on what is important.
Is there a chance that I'm over-interpreting? No, I don't think so. While it's great that Closure (unlike pure art games such as Passage or I Made this, You Play This, We Are Enemies) stands solidly as an innovative but traditionally-structured puzzle game, Glaiel has built meaning into it deliberately. This is the journey of Jacob Singer and James Sunderland. If it doesn't quite have the emotional resonance of Jacob's Ladder or Silent Hill, it's not for lack of effort.
This is the most important thing to hit your browser since Aether. Whether you're looking for fresh new gameplay, or you're interested in games with subtle emotional values, Closure is where it's at.