Irritum Review: A Puzzle Game That Leads You On A Journey Through Purgatory And Suicide
As an indie 3D puzzle platformer game created entirely by Nick Padget, who is only 22 years old, Irritum throws you into Limbo as a character who has just committed suicide. Your memories are lost to you. So you, too, are lost. You have a chance to change this as your journey in the game--a chance to remember, and a chance to live.
I was given the opportunity to review this game, and I have to honestly say my mind was very torn over how I felt about it. I was excited to be reviewing an indie game created solely by one person, and also on something that wasn’t your average topic. But the subject of the game left me feeling uneasy. Not in the sense of being uncomfortable about the topic, but in the sense of it being such an important topic. I felt like the game and the review could not be taken lightly.
Perhaps it’s also the reason why I felt compelled to see this game for myself.
Although I quote Milton here, you could easily see some slight mirror concepts between Irritum and the struggles that happen in Dante’s Divine Comedy. They are completely different in so many ways, of course. Yet, as soon as I stepped on to the first transparent platform in the dark stormy world and approached an angel-like being, my mind couldn’t help but connect the two.
“The mind is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” - Paradise Lost
In Irritum, you struggle after your death to, ideally, become alive again. Considering the ultimate level goals in the game play, it seems like this choice of life is your only choice. As a player, too, I find it unlikely many would choose anything else--if they even could. This is more a reflex as a gamer than a thought-driven decision. Most who would come to play Irritum would already understand its beginning mechanics before even starting, and as a result you're driven to this choice mostly as an act of this understanding. The mechanics drive you to this goal by what it takes to complete each level (a task that promotes bringing your character back to life), and this is still an interesting thing to note for later.
The game’s creator Nick at times calls the Limbo you journey through a “Purgatory”. It is dark, scary, and not a really fun place to be. There are also two beings who come to both guide and mislead you. Their names are Sollus and Cassus. Just as Dante had to travel through Purgatory, a place that in part was also a dark manifestation of his own mind, you too must travel through the darkness of and about your character in order to find your way out. You will have a guide, Sollus, as Dante did. It is also interesting to note that Dante placed his guide Virgil and other 'virtuous pagans' into an area of Purgatory called Limbo.
Dante faced a lot more enemies, however. You only face Cassus, who bids you to capture bits of your memory that lurk around Limbo. Here in lies something you do have a choice for: you can collect these or not. The game can end without them. Both angel-like beings try to argue for and against doing so at different points in the game. Ultimately, the memories piece together why you are here to begin with.
For me, they represented an incentive I couldn’t ignore, and a mystery I needed to know the answer to. From the first level, I ignored Sollus’s warning and knew I would collect them. These memories add much more struggle to your journey, and will take you additional time in the game to capture, than if you choose to ignore them.
Throughout the game you are constantly turning on parts of your brain. This follows Irritum's concept of being in Limbo, and it’s a logical choice. It’s also one of the aspects of the plot that really sets in this idea that you are not currently alive. That perhaps you are something else.
That’s important because as you play Irritum, it is easy to see how you could not realize this. Especially if you had no background information before you started, you might come to play the whole game not truly grasping that concept. This, is a small way, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Separate from the story, the game’s mechanics are enjoyable in and of themselves. As I said before, the game reminds me of Dante's Inferno--the elements certainly have an otherworldly feel to them, but if it wasn’t for having to turn on your brain again you might not know why.
What I thought of the Game Plot
I’ll touch on the central theme in more detail below, but for now I will say I did enjoy the two beings appearing to give me conflicting directions. I liked the mystery of them. My poetry-loving brain might be a little biased, of course, but who isn’t a little biased in some way or another.
It’s obvious storyline and plot isn’t a huge driving factor in this game. I’m sure some would gawk at me and argue, but save for using an unusual and controversial subject as its main focus, Irritum focuses more on its game mechanics than having the player follow a plot. I’ll repeat my previous statement: the game is enjoyable to play even if it had no real story behind it.
I might have enjoyed the game plot a whole lot more, however, if it didn't use suicide as the reason for being in this Limbo. I think it's too serious of a topic. Maybe I'm too much of a worrier.
Early on in the game, you move through a level by getting around obstacles on these transparent platforms suspended in air. If you fall or jump off a platform, you die and start again at a checkpoint. Checkpoints come often, too. Which is good, because I am not particularly graceful at these sort of games. I’m more likely to spend hours falling to my death, or telling my screen that it’s absolutely not possible to get past this obstacle (until a few more hours later I realize how obvious the answer was).
Eventually, you reach an ending point that brings you to a new level. As the levels progress, you begin to turn on pieces of your brain. Yes, literally. Irritum’s creator Nick has also done his homework. The areas of the brain that you turn on are accurate in their functions.
As you advance, of course the levels get harder. Whenever you turn on parts of the brain, new mechanics open up as well. I really like how the two coincide. It gives you the feeling that as you turn on these pieces, you really are activating something. My favorite of these mechanics would be being able to reverse gravity. It makes the game much more fun and interesting (as well as harder). Besides, who wouldn’t want to be able to reverse gravity?
What I thought of Game Mechanics
I loved them. I loved the progressive adding of different mechanics, and Irritum won me over in this area. It’s challenging, and yet in a simple way. There were a few moments I had to quit and thought I might never get past, but I have a feeling this is more from my own abilities (and I will refuse to admit I said this).
The audio of any memory you caught was a little hard to understand because it was distorted on purpose; however, it did add to the eerie ambience of the world you were in. You can also read these memories at any time from the main menu.
The Use of Suicide as a Plot Mechanic
The underlying concepts of this game, suicide, is something which should be looked and considered thoughtfully. You can’t create a game nor can you play a game with this core plot concept, and not consider all positive or negative aspects.
Happy-endings or not, Irritium introduces the player to a game where you are directly involved in this suicide. Your character just committed suicide, which therefore equals, albeit indirectly, that you just committed suicide. Too dramatic?
You don’t have to be a psychologist to know some of the reasons people play video games. There are many, just as there are all kinds of people in the world. Some like games with heavy role-playing in them; they enjoy immersing themselves into a character. Some would rather skip storyline, and get straight to the guts of whatever the game’s mechanics are. Whatever the reasons, all types could agree that playing a game engages a person in that game in some form or another.
Therefore when you play a character that has just committed suicide, it really isn’t too over dramatic to say you, yourself, have just committed this act. The game is asking you to think precisely in this way.
How does taking on this role affect the person playing, and does it step over the line of subjects we should use for a video game? I like tackling the difficult questions, and this is certainly a big one.
Instead of dying, you live.
In the above sections, I commented on how there wasn’t a choice on whether you, as the character, could turn on the pieces of your brain or not. You can’t choose not to live. This is a very important thing in the game, because suicide is a very serious subject. If you are going to make a game revolving around it, in my unprofessional opinion it better have only one outcome.
Here is where I must pause and admit something. I haven’t fully completed the game. It would take me much longer than any of you would like to wait for me to do so. In most circumstances, you don’t need to finish a game to review it. You can understand the important points (hint, hint, the above topics), and decide whether you liked the game.
Irritium is a tad different, as the ending is very important. However, I am drawing up my Sherlock Holmes spidey-senses, and coming to the conclusion myself based on current time spent in the game and the way it appears to be progressing (the mechanics and plot make no other outcome appear to be possible). Even if it were possible at the very end for there to be a way to choose something other than a second chance at life, by the time you reached it, the idea of restoring your life is probably pretty soundly set in your mind; it would be hard to change to a different decision.
One of the important things in Irritum’s favor I noticed was that Nick actually lists the National Suicide Prevention Hotline website link at the bottom of his website, even before his own contact information. This suggests he not only cares about the topic, but that he has actually done research into it. Still, I would have been a little more impressed if he had a small about page dedicated to the topic.
It doesn't feel like a game about suicide.
The game also has no graphical representation of what happened before you enter Limbo. As anyone who has ever entered a discussion about violence and video games knows, graphics (in particular AAA games because of the graphics quality) is the biggest issue when speaking on the subject.
Being able to visually see in realistic detail not only something violent, but seeing yourself complete said act of violence has the possibility to affect your emotional and mental state of being. I’m not stating that it does or doesn’t here, and I don’t want to get off the topic.
However, I do believe a video game is something that has the ability to influence a person--just as many other forms of media out there can influence our thoughts and behaviors. If you don’t believe me, go ask yourself the last time you told someone to ‘search’ for something instead of ‘Googling’ it. Things we hear and see often can influence us even when we don’t know we are being influenced.
But suicide is not a game.
Really, what do I know? I’m just a girl who likes to play video games. In order to see what someone who had a more official point-of-view than my own might say, I asked Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, Kelly Klastava, what she thought of the concept of the game:
“...My biggest issue is that it will desensitize people from suicide and how tragic it is. It will make people believe they can commit suicide and come back from the dead. Which is the biggest issue with all violent video games too. It desensitizes.”
Suicide is in fact a big issue all around the world. According to the American Association of Suicidology, in 2010, 38,364 people died from suicide in the U.S. That's around 1 suicide every .07 minutes, which is probably even less time than it took you to read this sentence.
Tony Dokoupil of Newsweek has reported data from the National Death Reporting System at Harvard as of May 2013, saying there has been "...an almost 20 percent rise in the annual suicide rate, a 30 percent jump in the sheer number of people who died, at least 400,000 casualties in a decade—about the same toll as World War II and Korea combined."
Generally, the AAS's study states people who exhibit no sense of purpose in life, no reason for living, hopelessness, feelings of being trapped, depression, and more often lead to thoughts or attempts at suicide.
It's also the 3rd cause of death among those 15-24 years, who probably are also a more likely age range for video games. Among those, how would they affect people? It is easy to see both sides here. On one side, the game's graphics and mechanics make it easy to forget what topic it is about. On the other side, would a person--especially someone already depressed or with suicidal thoughts--play Irritum and react badly to it?
I'd like to tell you that while you have been reading my review, I have been computing the world's most amazing calculations, and I now have all the answers to all of my questions (and perhaps some of yours). Alas, I do not. When it comes to human behavior, the world will always be shades of gray.
Irritum, in my opinion, is a fun game from someone who is obviously talented. Games like GTA, where you can graphically see yourself committing many crimes, are much more of a threat than this game could ever be. I personally plan on finishing the game, and I know I will continue to enjoy it. Would I suggest someone much younger than me play the game? I cannot. I would say minimum 17, and for once it's not because of the actions one can do in the game, but the thoughts and emotions that are tied up with its subject.
|Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255|
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline