Cinematic platformers are a rare find. Lost relics of gaming past, they are a sub-genre that only surfaces sporadically; very few games are classified as such to date. Even less that truly tap into the feel of ‘90s titles like Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee/Exoddus, Heart of Darkness and Another World. I myself spent many hours on the former two as a kid – dying many and sundry times, of course. So when one comes along that does, it immediately gets my attention. Full Void by OutOfTheBit Ltd is one such game.
This pixel art platformer paints a bleak (and perhaps now not so outrageously farfetched) picture of a grim future. A rogue A.I. has taken over a sprawling city and controls mankind. Menacing machines now patrol the dilapidated streets and alleys. The only hope lies in a runaway teenage boy, seemingly the only human still in control of his mind. But he’ll have to be quick-thinking and quick-footed to stay one step ahead of his mechanical pursuers and a grim fate.
Thinking On Your Feet
Like its inspirations, Full Void’s gameplay is rooted in a mix of precise puzzle platforming and split-second reactions. One foot wrong and the protagonist meets an untimely end. Nearly all of these are shown in startling close-up cutscene fashion, à la Another World. And again like its predecessors, you’re thrown straight into the action sans tutorial. With a faceless, humanoid droid in pursuit, you must run, jump and climb to escape its clutches. The control scheme keeps it simple with 4-direction movement and a button to jump and interact; playable with a keyboard, but best suited to a gamepad. The movement can feel a little rigid to begin with and certainly takes a little getting used to, but it is very responsive and perfectly in tune with the pixel art animation. Also if you’re familiar with classic cinematic platformers, you’ll be right at home.
Varied locales in the city present different platforming challenges such as monkey-swinging across pipes, pushing crates to block hazards or lowering cranes to create a path across rooftops. Each requires a little careful thinking (and sometimes a little trial and error) in order to progress or evade the menacing droids. Late in the first act, the young boy discovers a small, round droid which he reprograms to help him along his journey. At certain points, the droid can be deployed to reach far-off ledges and pull unreachable switches. Here it displays a tile grid on the screen of how the droid advances. This aspect is helpful twofold as it also gives the player a sense of how the boy himself moves within a scene. Occasionally boy and droid must work in tandem to progress; a nice extra layer of puzzling into the mix and satisfying to execute.
One thing Full Void manages exceptionally well is the creation of atmosphere. In every scene, there is both an overwhelming sense of isolation and a level of unease. From the beginning pursuit, open spaces and stretching shadows are potential opportunities to be ambushed. Husks of humans hooked up to tentacle-like cables stare blankly out of apartment windows, now the A.I.’s eyes. Decrepit surroundings tower over the boy and evoke the feeling of being vulnerable and alone in a dangerous new world. Dialogue is foregone for a much more visual and environmental method of storytelling – one that feels very natural. In particular locations, a vibrant flashback plays, showing memories of the boy’s life with his family before the calamity. With these brief flashes of vibrance, one can feel the magnitude of what has occurred and how far the city has fallen.
This works in tandem with the underlying connection to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on children. While it can be a little heavy-handed in places, its nature accurately reflects the viewpoint of a child experiencing hardship and change. Everything is perceived in extremes, with little to no concept of the shades of grey between black and white. Lockdowns and restrictions tied children’s worlds almost completely to technology. Adults even more so.
The End is Nigh
Cinematic platformers are generally shorter affairs, with challenging difficulty and lengthy puzzle segments extending and making up the bulk of the runtime. Full Void is definitely one of the shortest out there, clocking in at roughly 2 – 3 hours max. Even less if you’re particularly speedy. This isn’t necessarily a downside – a game that is comfortable in its runtime and knows how far its course can run is always refreshing. While it manages this for the most part, a little more time fleshing out the dynamic between the boy and the droid would have been welcome. Given the lack of dialogue, some of the scenes in the last act would have hit harder. And, as the droid can also adopt various forms, more opportunities to explore the droid’s liquid form a little more (if not gain another different one) would have also added to the experience.
As mentioned earlier, the gameplay keeps things fairly simple, but the difficulty is a little on the easier side. Don’t worry, you’ll still experience a good amount of failed jumps and grisly (yet PG-friendly) deaths. But at most it’ll take you a couple of attempts to complete a certain section. Keeping the grid framework in mind, it becomes even easier to judge jumps and crawling sections. So those looking for a more brutal challenge may be a little disappointed. But the level of care gone into this dystopian creation is undeniable.
If like me you are a complete sucker for gorgeous pixel art, then Full Void will thoroughly spoil you. Every scene is brimming with atmosphere and small details. From crumbling brickwork against a sprawling night sky to shattered water tanks reflecting the stark bulbs of an abandoned lab, this husk of a city feels alive (so to speak). Each area evokes a different feel with colour palettes and shadows, creating a stark contrast to the protagonist’s flashbacks of the before times. The cutscenes—deaths and otherwise—are also fully delivered in a crisp and fluid (and fully cinematic) pixel art animation. A particularly pleasant departure from the static images and repeating animations with text commonly associated with the style.
When approaching sound design, OutOfTheBit wore their influences on their sleeve yet again with a more minimalist approach – a move that thoroughly pays off. Trading a full, bombastic soundtrack for something more stripped back, ambient sounds punctuate the majority of the scenes, amplifying the immersion and unease. But during the faster-paced action scenes, old-school Amiga MOD music ramps up the technological tension. The reach of the A.I. feels ever-present in these pulsing tracks and adds to the sense of urgency to keep pressing forward.
Despite its short runtime and perhaps lacking enough challenge for veteran players, Full Void is still absolutely worth picking up. The platforming puzzles and superb visuals are a great combination, underscored by an exceptional sense of atmosphere and unease. It also taps into how a debilitating event would feel and be perceived through the eyes of a child living through it. A worthy homage to its 20th-century predecessors, fans will feel right at home and have an enjoyable couple of hours. For newbies, this is an excellent little introduction to the world of cinematic platformers. And with its age-appropriate action, it can be an adventure for the whole family.
Thus it receives the Thumb Culture Gold Award!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.