Modern puzzle games have a terror all their own.
You might not be cowering in a cupboard while a mumbling spectre stalks the halls but, more often than not, there’s an unsettling narrative woven into the puzzle-solving shenanigans. Those crates you’ve been pushing into place? You’re secretly a serial murder and every one of them contains a victim’s corpse. There’s a similar sense of unease threaded through Ever Forward.
Sure, Maya’s an adorable little moppet but, as you guide her through this puzzler, you’re bracing yourself for a thoroughly uncomfortable resolution. Will it draw back the curtain to reveal she’s been grafted to the back of some alien murder-beast? Or that she’s actually some artificial intelligence, cut loose and drifting through the cosmos?
“Ever Forward has heart, but it’s the game’s otherworldly aesthetic and ever-escalating challenge that drives the game”
The teasing, narrative glimpses you get from completing a puzzle just underline the effort it takes to crack Ever Forward‘s conundrums. Ever Forward has heart, but it’s the game’s otherworldly aesthetic and ever-escalating challenge that drives the game. You’ll spend thirty seconds seething at Maya’s seemingly neglectful mother and a good fifteen minutes figuring out how to stop her being gunned down.
Despite Maya’s young age, the chief obstacle you face are floating gun turrets, dubbed “Roundies”, that will turn her into digital detritus. With the exception of the last few levels, all the puzzles require you to avoid or distract the Roundies, before using a cube to activate the level’s exit point (insert your own Companion Cube joke here). But despite the relative lack of variety, Ever Forward rarely feels repetitive; you’re too busy racking your brains for the one neat trick that will see you safely through.
“Despite the relative lack of variety, Ever Forward rarely feels repetitive”
What sets Ever Forward apart from Portal, its undoubted influence, is that you don’t have the comfort of an enclosed arena; instead, the levels are suspended over a bottomless abyss. Ever Forward‘s mechanics rarely change – instead, the level geometry becomes increasingly complex, forcing you to think in new dimensions. There’s a stark contrast between Maya’s beachside dreamworld and the puzzle realm she plunges herself into, but both are gorgeous to behold.
Roundies have two states: standard and alert. In some games, putting a gun turret into ‘alert’ state would mean you’ve failed, but not in Ever Forward; in a stroke of malevolent genius, there are times when you have to alert a Roundie, then use its increased alertness to your advantage. Okay, so you can’t get past it – but what if you jumped to alert it, tossed the cube down from above, then sneaked past while it was distracted? Bingo!
“The puzzles are seldom confusing and are always satisfying to solve”
It’s these little epiphanies that make Ever Forward such a joy to play; the puzzles are seldom confusing and are always satisfying to solve. You do have the option to use hints if you’re stuck, but the one time I resorted to that, I felt like an idiot for not having seen the solution. Ever Forward‘s puzzles will have you scratching your head, but you won’t be tearing your hair out. However, there are times when frustration kicks in – and it’s all Maya’s fault.
Ever Forward‘s problem is that its protagonist decides she knows better than you, at least when it comes to sneaking around. She can be mildly unwieldy at times, but she insists on going into auto-sneak when you approach a turret. The infuriating side-effect of this is you’re stuck in sneak until she decides you’re far enough away from the turret, at which point she switches into normal movement.
It’s the only time she displays any degree of autonomy and you could argue it’s in her own interest to stop herself getting gunned down. But aside from taking the choice away from the player, it can result in more deaths. On several occasions, I moved over to a pillar only to overshoot because Maya stopped sneaking. This put me in the sights of another Roundie, with predictable consequences. This isn’t a game-ruiner, but it is a pretty odd design decision.
Ever Forward isn’t an easy road, but whatever you make of its final narrative revelation, it’s an engaging, rewarding journey that’s well worth taking. Just remember to stop scratching your head when you hit brain matter.