STORY GAMES: "The Neverhood"
Ooo! What do we have here? A game made by DreamWorks, the place where Spielberg launders his money? A game made completely with the tender magic of Claymation? A game about creation itself, which promises deep metaphysical speculation and angst?

And yet, and yet -- it is so bad.

Word: this game took me a month to play, not because it was difficult, but because it was so boring and tedious that I could only play it for an hour at a time before I wanted to take some clay and make it into the shape of a little man, give him a cute smile, and then pound that clay flat with a fist made of rage.

Basically, everything about this game is broken, and the only reason it gets any attention at all is because it must have taken fucking YEARS to make, and you can see that wells, and caverns, and castles full of time and pain went into the production of this thing.

Playing this game made me recall the words of comedian Dave Attell regarding opera: "I'm sitting at the opera, and I'm thinking: 'Look how much work it takes to BORE ME.'"

It is a waste! It is a sad, sad waste that nobody hired a good writer to make this game into something that could have been great.


You play a character named Klayman, who is German, I guess. At least, in my mind I named him Hans Klayman. He is an existential man: he does not know why he exists or what his purpose is, only that he has awakened in his universe and must perform tasks.

This game is partially a colossal failure of design because it employs the "Mist"-based associative-logic method of game storytelling, a method which sucks all the realism and fun out of a game scenario and replaces it with "puzzles."





This is how you make Klayman progress through the hell of his world: you walk around the universe of the game available to you, you write down every cryptic symbol you see and pull every lever, and then you see the way in which every damn thing is connected to every other damn thing in a nonsensical plenum of sign, signifier, and clay. If you get things right, more of the universe opens up to you, and you can explore more tedious things.


This kind of game is the reason why people decided that games should have more killing, more guns, and more mindless action and activity. Playing this game, you realize that people who deride the "story game" genre sometimes have a really good point. Every time I had to do the same damn beaker-filling puzzle in order to get from point A to point B, I wanted to call Gumby and tell him that Klayman has been cheating with his girl and to prepare a tub full of boiling benzene to get rid of the body.

A game's story has to be motivated. You have to know why you are doing something, or at the very least, the things you are doing have to make narrative sense.

Consider this "puzzle" from the game that made me give up on it altogether, and blow through the rest with the walkthrough file on ALT-TAB.

Never mind the endless memory-matching and shape-finding puzzles. Consider this:

At a certain point in "The Neverhood," you discover that you need to turn on a radio. There is a dysfunctional radio in one of the rooms, and it is in keeping with the rest of the game's silly logic that anything dysfunctional must be fixed and anything turned off must be turned on.

There is no apparent way to turn the radio on inside the room where you find it, and so you continue on your way, "exploring" other things.

Eventually, you come to another radio which is already playing music. Before the music starts to play on this new radio, there is a cowbell noise. Now. At the very beginning of the game, there are a series of ropes you can pull that all do nothing except make ZANY noises, because you are pulling them while searching for the RIGHT rope to open your front door.

One of the funny "gotcha" noises is a cowbell. If you remember this, then that means you will know to go all the way back to the beginning of the game and pull that "cowbell rope" to turn on this dysfunctional radio, merging two objects in no way connected to each other except through the associative logic of a sound effect.

1) Old Radio is off
2) New Radio is on
3) Old Radio =/= New Radio
4) Old Radio MUST = New Radio
5) Differences between Old Radio and New Radio: music, cowbell, lights
6) Rope = Cowbell
7) Old Radio + Rope = New Radio
8) Old Radio is on!

Fuck this game.


But really, it is hard to consider this a "story game" at all. It is more like a sculpture game, in that the game progresses along tracks motivated by the limits of Claymation and the aims of Claymation animators.

In the same way that a sculpture is a dead object that reveals its artistic insight by the clever or interesting way that it mocks reality (or conversely, displays an ideal form), "The Neverhood" creates a dead world that mocks creation itself. The music is good. The game is pretty. The story is awful.

If you want to know what is going on in this game, you are expected to read a 38-screen amalgam of the Bible that discusses the creation of "The Neverhood." It is not a funny parody of the Bible; it is a SERIOUS Bible-analog. The begats are represented, for instance.

You are supposed to care about this shit and take it seriously, never mind the dullness of the prose, and the fact that you are forced to read the "story" of the game all in one long chunk without context.

Additionally, you travel through the universe finding little videotapes. When you put them all together, they give you a five-minute-long movie about what the fuck you are supposed to be doing and why you exist. But -- ha -- by the time you have all the tapes, the game is over.

Here, here, HERE is the story: a deity named Hoborg built "The Neverhood," and also made the first man, an imp named Klogg. Klogg stole Hoborg's crown, and turned the "good" switch on his helper robot to "evil." Then you came along. You have to fix the world -- or rather, you have to complete a whole bunch of fucking memory and matching puzzles, and then the world will fix itself.

All Klogg had to do was erase any of the hundred glyphs which you use to perform tasks, and he would have been fine. He would have beaten Hoborg forever. But no, "The Neverhood" itself is a world whose very being leads to the destruction of Klogg. As long as you hear the cowbells, and don't mind hours of walking around making nonsense happen, the world will help you defeat him.

Am I reading this game completely wrong? Should I see it as a deep, metaphysical critique of humanity's place in an alien, hostile environment?

Is it the Zoroastrian parable of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, where the Good God built the world to lure the Bad God in and to trap him?

Are not we all not made of clay?

There is one really great thing in this game. One really great thing. It is a cutscene that happens unexpectedly when you walk into one of the buildings. Nothing else in the game is as fun as this, and strangely, it is also how I felt about this game in a nutshell:


Posted by miracle on Thu, 29 May 2008 11:17:10 -0400 -- permanent link

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