04 August, 2014

Review - I Wouldn't Set My Alarm For 4PM

4PM is an “interactive-thiller”, a (very) short narrative where you are subjected to a day, or at least the eventful parts, of Caroline’s life. She’s an alcoholic – whose favourite beverage has oddly consistent memory-wiping properties.


I am a firm believer – an evangelist if you will – in short, meaningful games, they can be the most emotionally powerful that we play. I would, without a moment’s hesitation, take a three hour emotional trip like Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons, over the much-lauded world of Skyrim. That is not to say I do not enjoy and will not praise, genre defining greats, such as Skyrim, I merely feel that, a more pure and consistent experience is only possible in a shorter form, and I do value such experiences above all else.

It doesn’t have to be fun…

With my self-justified preamble done, we move on to the actual subject matter, 4PM. This game, took me approximately twenty-five minutes  to complete - to hit the credit screen. In fact, I’m confident that the scroll of credits lasts longer than most (if not all) of the individual scenes. In the that half-hour, you can expect to stumble around some small, relatively empty environments, and occasionally vomit on the floor, the only emotion I was left with was a small amount of confusion, coupled with regret – that I will never regain those precious twenty-five minutes.

Hey, we’ve all been there right? Too drunk and too far from the nearest stall, but at no point I my life has someone counted-down the seconds until the last few hour’s drinks came back up. Nor was my floor ever illuminated by a trail of white squares leading me from the bathroom to by vibrating phone.  It’s difficult to reconcile the gameplay elements when they conflict with the very purpose of the game – the phone is ringing, like a room away, the phone I saw (and touched) upon waking up, yet the game doesn’t trust me to be able to find and answer it without the aid of a breadcrumb trail? For a cinematic experience, 4PM is quick to rely on traditional gameplay and user interface elements, needless ones at that.

…but it does have to be something!

If the game’s narrative were conveyed through blood paintings on the walls, it would be told more subtlety than in its current form. You play as Caroline, a perhaps irredeemable person. You’re an alcoholic, but don’t expect to feel sympathy for her though, her alcoholic addiction is pretty unique; she is able to immediately forget the face (and name) of the man she has been having an affair with for literally months. Each time she meets the same man, it’s a whole new experience because she has already forgotten him… believable and grounded right?

4PM’s presentation is abysmal, all the coloured lighting and screen blurring that it throws at you does nothing to hide the ugly character models and Spartan environments. You may soon find yourself agreeing whole heartedly with your boss Keith, who like to let you know how worthless Caroline is, and you’ll get to see plenty of his terrifying plastic face as you try to drunkenly escape from work. It’s a stealth scene where you duck in and out of cubicles and hide behind chairs, as Keith paces back and forth, it is more comical than it is tense, especially as it illustrates the lack of other people in you department – almost all the cubicles are empty.

“You’re the only joke round here!”

The characters are so one dimensional and flat,  it’s utterly laughable, you’d struggle even to feel sympathy for the married co-worker you’ve been having a one-night stand with - every night, for months. His wife, being maybe the only believable character mentioned in the game, has signed for divorce and taken his kids. As the game closes you are ushered to follow the ‘mysterious’ man, during the eschewing rooftop rant by your suicidal lover, you find out, about the many ways that Caroline is an awful person, many of which have been alluded to in brief flashbacks and by objects your apartment. Are you responsible for ruining his life? Is he just as bad for having an affair? Who knows, more importantly – who cares, it’s the last scene in this whole forgettable experience anyway.

That the game bombards you with ‘revelations’ in the last scene is not inherently a problem; however, as you know next to nothing, and care even less about the characters, the entire scene - and by extension, the entire game - as no impact. Of course you can avoid this exchange entirely by heading to the bar and getting drunk rather than sneaking to the rooftop – that’s what Caroline does best, because exchanging dialog certainly isn’t. Rather than simply ending with you drinking yourself into oblivion, you fail and the game sends you back to make the rooftop or bar decision again, so no, your choices do not have consequences.

4PM, fails to inspire much of anything, the characters you encounter in the twenty-five disjointed minutes you spend in Carolines vomit-coated shoes, are all flat stereotypes, Caroline included, but she is pushed even further into the unbelievable. The dialog is almost as simple and awkward as the visuals, the graphical presentation is perhaps the worst individual element of the game, but the dialog is crucial to the storytelling, thus its quality impacts the game to a much greater degree. 4PM has no single success, but is marred by a host of failures, both creative and technical. 

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