PEGBRJE: if not us and The Hex
Page 6 is starting off surreal.
‘if not us’ is the game to start off page 6, and boy howdy is it a ride.
Created by the dev ub4q, a solo dev who specializes in narrative prowess, ‘if not us’ is an interactive fiction experience detailing the lives of 5 heroes across different timelines that have been called for a new quest while retelling pieces of the old quest that caused them to splinter in the first place. They each have their own way of storytelling, between short brutish prose, letters to others, or poems to recount the fact that they all realize too late; they aren’t going to be ok.
‘if not us’ is a story told by 5 different people at 5 different times of the stories lifetime, utilizing different ways of conveying the dismay that they all face, making it at first read like a jumbled mess of words and phrases that players can click to interact with. In reality, each vignette contains a different approach to story telling for each of their 5 timelines to reveal the hidden secrets underneath. This does in fact sound confusing, but it feels more like a mystery wrapped within a series of books that may not have intended to be mysterious in the first place — an exercise in reading between the lines, if you will. For an example, I ‘completed’ Cevahir’s storyline in which I counted along and pieced together a narrative, whilst Apollinariya’s story was a game of finding all of the pieces to the poem while attempting to put together the timeline she experienced. Both heroes experienced the story and emotions in their own way, conveying them in such an expressive manner befitting to how they would talk or think. Yet even then, I felt lost — I couldn’t figure out what was going on, almost to the point of grabbing some paper to jot down notes, and that’s when it hit me.
This game isn’t meant to be understood immediately, nor does it give all of the answers to fit into a nice puzzle. Each hero can only convey what they know through methods that make sense to them, meaning that we as players are on the receiving end of their emotions and their state of being, but not their fully opened minds. The interactivity that players are given is to reinforce that information is selective at best, that these timelines may have differing outcomes but ultimately resolve to a similar point. Players can change which words they choose, how they alter the sequence of events in the hopes of discovery and possible ‘saving’ of the heroes but ultimately the final destination is the same for all. Players are looking at a bizarre broken section of time, where each hero has their own timeline to fulfill but to us we have all of them to discover the past that they wish to leave buried.
And with all of this, there’s still so much I don’t know.
I made the mistake during my ‘first’ playthrough of “if not us” by skim reading under the false pretense that this was a novel that I could follow and understand quite easily. It is not, and I learned that quickly — fast enough to immediately reset the entire game and try again with an analytical mind ready to uncover the strange and wonderful world crafted within. Even then, I may have to read the PDF version as well to see if I can better understand and parse the information given by this game — it’s expansive, wrapping around each other so easily that it doesn’t take long to get lost. There’s even a ‘making of’ that apparently can delve more into some possible ‘answers’ but for me personally, it will have to wait until I’ve formulated my own theories. If you are unafraid of text that is written in different prose and have a few hours to dedicate to reading multiple stories of similar events, give “if not us” a try and see for yourself if you can understand what these 5 heroes are going through. I don’t know if there is a ‘rewarding’ ending to this all, but judging by how the world and characters are conveyed I don’t believe there is; after all, this is their life, and life rarely has clean and complete solutions to their mysteries.
The Hex is a meta-narrative experience by Daniel Mullins, a solo indie dev known for his earlier title Pony Island. Players follow 6 different character in The Hex, all of whom are found within The Six Pint Inn and are under duress due to the owner being called and informed that a murder will soon be taking place. Each character is controlled at different segments of the game, and each experience a certain event that gives them a flashback to their previous experiences within the video game world. All in question can interact with each other and other characters to be revealed and will hopefully uncover the murder plot, but may discover something just as dark.
There’s nearly 0 way to talk about The Hex without spoiler. Normally this is somewhat implied, but due to the nature of this game it may not be as obvious just how easy it is to spoil many of the elements. If you have any desire to play the Hex, go do that now.
For those of you unconvinced, allow me to delve into spoiler territory. The Hex covers a wide array of topics handled within game development and player interaction, all within the confines of a murder mystery. Each character comes from a ‘failed’ video game franchise reminiscent of many real franchises, all struggling in their own way from a title that gets bought out and remastered poorly to a fighter who gets purchased and put into a new game series. At first, I was convinced this was just a title satirizing video game franchises that get set into a buggy mess for any multitude of reasons. Then I thought it was more broad then that, looking into copyright and purchasing of franchises, while talking about how franchises may exceed their ‘limit’, so to speak. Let’s just say, there’s still more to discover.
The storytelling capabilities of The Hex resemble a covered roller coaster, as players are able to understand where the direction may be going with the themes being uncovered, but are unable to fully comprehend exactly where the highs and lows actually are. There are times in which I felt confident I had figured out the riddle, as mentioned above, only to get a metaphorical slap of new information and context. Each flashback game reveals more of how this world works while letting players explore remnants of a game that may invoke some pity nostalgia for how twisted it has become. The only down time, and arguably the weakness of the game, is the Inn itself at times where it just slows the pace down to remind players that there is a murder plot, one that seems somewhat buried in all of the other symbolism.
There’s a lot to like about The Hex, and a lot to experience and find out. Some may see it as a little heavy handed at times, specifically around the fake community interactions via Steam and Twitch (even if the twitch integration aspect was my favourite part) and what they are inferring. Nevertheless, there are enough elements and variation coupled with the meta-aesthetic posed that players familiar with Mullins will seriously enjoy. Personally, I hadn’t heard of Pony Island before but this title does make me consider grabbing it and seeing what the mind that brought this title came up with earlier. If you are a fan of metacommentary games with a subtle twist on NPC interaction and ‘where do video game characters go when their game dies?’ styled theming, The Hex is definitely a game worth your 6–7 hours to complete.
if not us
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