Game Reviews

Photographs review - "A puzzle game that asks about the choices we make"

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| Photographs
Photographs review - "A puzzle game that asks about the choices we make"
| Photographs

There's a very large part of me that doesn't want to tell you anything about Photographs. In normal circumstances that might make writing a review of the game difficult, but then there's nothing particularly normal about Photographs.

This is a game with a number of sudden and heartbreaking gear changes, one that mixes together narrative and puzzling in ways that the likes of Candy Crush Saga could only ever dream of. It's brutal sometimes, where at others it's tender and welcoming and full of hope.

It's like a bunch of other games, but it's also utterly unique. It's a hidden object game, a block-sliding puzzler, and a twisted maze. It's a match-stuff puzzler where your matches actually count, and an adventure where everything has consequences. It is, in short, one of the most beautiful and bizarre games we've played in ages.

Trapped in time

This is a game split into five different stories. Each of those stories will take you about half an hour to complete. They sort of intertwine, but in literary terms this is a thematic anthology that deals with choices and tragedies - each slice of narrative brings you closer to a central truth, before revealing something you weren't expecting.

The different sections of the game have their own mechanics. One's about getting a pair of characters to the right places on a grid, all while your swipes are controlling both of them. Other challenges see you fitting shapes together, matching things in the cleverest ways, or pulling off Angry Birds-style ball-based trick shots.

In some games the shift between different tasks can be jarring - here though the new sections of play are handled brilliantly. You always know what you have to do before the difficulty ramps up, and every mechanical choice the game makes feels tuned to the narrative curve it takes as well.

Photographs iOS review screenshot - Young protecters watching their teacher

One thing that's hard to ignore is the fierce streak of intelligence running through the game. It isn't cruel, but it expects you to pay attention. You're always given all the information you need to complete the puzzles - it's a case of you piecing together that information in the correct way.

While the puzzles offer up a decent level of challenge, the stories themselves are painted in shades of grey. There are twists and turns in all of them, and just because you've finished a section of levels, that doesn't mean that particular part of the story has come to an end.

In between the challenges you're looking for objects through the viewfinder of your camera - some of these things are unimportant, but that's the point; we don't always have photographs of the important things, no matter how hard we try.

Click click

Where You Must Build A Boat stretched the familiar shape of the narrative puzzler, Photographs shows us how constricted our idea of the genre has been. Where it follows patterns it's exciting, but where it forges out on its own it's magnificent. There's a confidence that radiates throughout the game, and a compulsion to keep playing to the bitter end.

Photographs is a brilliant game about love and loss and sacrifice. It's also a game about escaping the shackles that tangle up our understanding of how to play - it's an experience that tells you mechanically and narratively that the world can be different, and that's so important right now.

You could call Photographs the first post-post-truth videogame, but then you'd sound a bit like an idiot. Instead let's call it what it is. This is a digital experience that holds up a mirror and tells us to look, really look, at how we live, the choices we make, and the consequences - intended or otherwise - of our actions.

Photographs review - "A puzzle game that asks about the choices we make"

Photographs is a genuinely unique puzzle adventure that deserves to be played by as many people as possible
Harry Slater
Harry Slater
Harry used to be really good at Snake on the Nokia 5110. Apparently though, digital snake wrangling isn't a proper job, so now he writes words about games instead.