Half-game, half-novel, All the Delicate Duplicates tells the story of a single father, John, and his daughter, Charlotte. Spanning four time zones and multiple dreamlike states, you piece together a surrealist story of family and the unfamiliar – but it doesn’t always pay off.
All the Delicate Duplicates feels like it’s trying something new and experimental. Exploring the family house, you can jump between timezones at will; seeing the evolution of both the home and the family inside it. Stroll in and out of the various rooms and you’ll be greeted by floating text, exhibiting your inner thoughts now, in the past and in the future.
“All the Delicate Duplicates feels like it’s trying something new and experimental.”
While the game’s main focus is undoubtedly on story, it is up to you as the player to place the pieces together. Every object, interactive or not, is part of a larger jigsaw. As you switch between timelines, entire rooms will change and individual paintings will move. It is up to you to ask why. You’ll quickly begin to notice small details that give way to larger clues.
Writing in the air is distinguished by different fonts as you realise you aren’t just seeing your own thinking and reflections, but that of other characters. Further timelines become more surreal and full of symbolism until it is difficult to discern what is purposeful and what isn’t.
You’ll notice I’m being stingy with giving any worthwhile plot details – for good reason. While All the Delicate Duplicates tells a story spanning decades, the game itself won’t take more than two hours to complete. As you are given the freedom to hop between timelines at will, every player will discover plot points at separate stages.
In fact, this facet can cause more problems than not. When I first ‘completed’ the game – in other words, got to the credits – I had only explored approximately 40% of the world that All the Delicate Duplicates has to offer. I missed two entire timelines and, due to pure luck, picked the correct items to progress to the final area early. Luckily, the credits are no more than a screen and I was able to jump straight back to where I had left off.
This did mean one thing, however. When I, around an hour later, did “complete” the game in my own way – now having understood the story – it all felt rather inconsequential. There was no ‘Game Over’ screen, no credit sequence; just me standing in a room, looking at the final piece of evidence. I hit escape and went back to the main menu.
“[All The Delicate Duplicates’] moments of greatness – often coming from its experimental nature – are too few and far between stages of gratuitous reading and derivative searching. The final experience, marred by playing it just too safe, comes off feeling needlessly short and forgetful.”
However, like I’ve said, All the Delicate Duplicates is different – and playing the game is only half the experience. On the main menu sits the ‘Back (And Forth) Story’; simply, a selection of readable passages giving extra context to the narrative’s events. If you played the game first (I’d recommend that you do) you’ll begin to notice the origin of various excerpts read in-game.
The game and book are two sides of the same coin. One, more coherent and cohesive; the other, full of symbolism and interpretation. It’s just a shame that, in the end, the coin itself isn’t all that compelling. When all pieced together, the final story is forgettable. The most interesting parts of it – the few twists and turns – aren’t delivered through your own clever deciphering that this chess piece symbolises this or that character, but rather through reading excessively long journal entries.
All the Delicate Duplicates can provide some visually striking scenes and, at times, can create a suitably unsettling atmosphere, but unfortunately, this is often the minority. For a game as short as it is, too much time is spent exploring the same drab, dull house, examining various household objects. From the offset, arcane powers and magical effects are displayed prominently, meaning that, even when the story is reconstructed, the end product seems flimsy and implausible.
That’s not to say that an effective story can’t be told through something fanciful – of course it can. It’s just a shame that All the Delicate Duplicates seems lacking of any deeper meaning or thematic purpose. Its moments of greatness – often coming from its experimental nature – are too few and far between stages of gratuitous reading and derivative searching. The final experience, marred by playing it just too safe, comes off feeling needlessly short and forgetful.