Title: What Happened
Developer: Genius Slackers
Release Date: July 30, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Sourena Game Studio
I’m always up for a good thriller that explores the effects that emotional trauma has on a person. There’s been plenty of excellent examples of this over time in video games that aren’t always a result of a high budget title. I could say that Genius Slackers’ newest game What Happened caught my eye through its premise and set pieces. However, within the first 15 minutes, I couldn’t care less about what happened.
What Happened has players control a boy named Stiles, who is battling some trauma, which has led him to push away his friends and sink into the role of an outcast. His anxiety and depression result in an “everyone against me” attitude as he shuts out the world around him and floats through the halls of his school, usually on drugs.
The title of the game sets up the question that will be asked up until the final act. However, the narrative and story are incredibly difficult to follow or care about. The fast pacing of the game’s opening gives you no time to care about Stiles, his friends, who he was before, or what he’s gone through. The idea is that you’d want to find all this out over time, but the environments and constant state of confusion that I was in occupied more of my headspace than giving a damn about Stiles and his issues.
There’s a ton of symbolism in most of the various rooms you find yourself in. While most are easy to wrap your mind around, others seem like a stretch. The game itself is more or less a walking simulator with very light puzzle solving. It’s tough to get lost, but there are some moments that will leave you scratching your head on what to do.
Most story triggers happen after you complete an event, which sometimes even has you backtrack. It’s not uncommon to go through a hall of locked doors, trigger an event that then unlocks a door magically. This is what the game is reduced down to after a while, hitting story triggers until something moves you to the next area.
The story is focused on Stiles’ inner struggles, and after a few hours, you learn about his girlfriend, best friend, and family members. Each of these elements played a part in what brought him to this state of mind, but the shallow writing and character interactions don’t do nearly enough to keep you invested. Stiles will often talk to himself, who acts as the aggregator and tour guide through all this. It’s tough to say if this alter-ego is evil though, as it does help out in some areas of the game, so I’m not sure.
As confusing as everything is, the environments are pretty impressive and are relatively interesting to explore, but nothing is cohesive or flows. The entire experience feels like a school project giving the impression that the team is just showing off their skills on a budget with the sheer amount of random elements. Seriously, the game has so many different transitions, points of view, story triggers, and so on, to the point that it’s overwhelming.
What ends up being worse than any confusion you’ll encounter during the story is that borderline motion sickness you’ll suffer during every moment of the gameplay. It’s like the camera is never straight; you are tilting from left to right or trying to play through some drug simulation filter. It’s insanely jarring to the point that I had to take a break every 10 minutes.
Interacting with the world has you opening up drawers, reading notes, solving locks, and turning on and off lots and lots of lights. However, there are some items that you can pick up and spin around to put down with no explanation or reason. Stiles makes no reference to these items and they don’t do anything for the progression of the narrative, which makes you ask, “Why did I just pick that up.” It just reinforces the idea that a group of students made this game.
A big problem with What Happened is that I never cared about Stiles. During no part of the game could I sympathize with the protagonist or even empathize with his situation. He’s just so much at odds with himself, and I believe that beginning the game with him on acid was a terrible first impression.
As you go deeper into his reasonings, the drug addiction ultimately holds him back from redemption. There’s a lack of trust between the player and Stiles that doesn’t work for this type of game. With so much symbolism, I think it would have been better if Stiles and the player could have some level of understanding because the setup now is exceptionally overwhelming.
What Happened gives you very little reason to even care about answering that question. The narrative is consistently flimsy as you dive into the mind of an unlikeable protagonist. There are very few moments of redemption with some well-detailed environments and clever transitions, but that is not nearly enough to keep you invested. If the motion sickness doesn’t get you to turn the game off, then the self-deprecating storyline and in-your-face symbolism will cause you to roll your eyes to sleep in no time.
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