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Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Ice Water Games
Developer: Michael Bell (EU), Galen Drew (US)
Release Date: April 7, 2020


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PC Review - 'Pattern'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 14, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Wander an endless dreamscape of thick forests and sublime vistas as you dive deeper and the dream morphs, revealing ever stranger and more abstract worlds.

Games as art: That has become a lightning rod for those who seek to validate video games as more substantial than electronic toys. Advocates compare it to movies where, despite being collaborative efforts by hundreds of people, the end result is the vision of one person with either a story to tell or an idea to convey. Naysayers argue that player involvement ultimately transforms the experience enough that it is no longer a passive art form. Whether intentional or not, Pattern stands as a reason to ignite the argument once more.

Pattern takes the form of a walking simulator, albeit one with no immediately apparent story. You wake up in a natural rock hallway that leads to a room with a campfire in the center. Approach the campfire, and you're prompted to rest; you'll rest, since there's nothing else of interest to check out in the room. Once you wake up, you're transported to another land to explore, but there isn't a short-term goal set for you.

Walk around enough, and you'll notice that the levels aren't handmade but procedurally generated. You may find jagged rock outcroppings in the middle of a desert or near still waters. Giant swords can jut out of mountainsides, or pine trees can surround abandoned lookout towers and radio antennas. Building ruins can sit alongside floating bits of Greek columns, while the land leads to craters or trees producing giant apples that enlarge upon approach. Like a dream, all of this is seemingly put together haphazardly, and it's painted with lots of colors. Only a small segment of the color spectrum is used at any time, while the horizon is painted in an eternal foggy haze with the day and night cycle, and random weather effects complete the picture.

More than most other walking simulators, there aren't too many things to do aside from wander. There are no dangers from the environment and no adversaries to fight against or run away from. The only game-related mechanic is a stamina meter that appears when you try to climb, run, or jump from a high place and glide somewhere else. Those are nice, but they seem like leftover functions from a different kind of game. There are no restrictions to what you can climb and no reason to run, especially since it doesn't result in covering greater distances. Gliding is great for covering large swaths of land from high places, but falling down causes no damage at all. Likewise, don't expect other surfaces to follow traditional game convention, since you can walk on water instead of needing to swim through it.

Eventually, you'll run into one of three different objects that you can interact with. The first is a campfire, which serves as your means of leaving the current world and entering the next one. Their presence is indicated by smoke that can be seen at any distance, and it becomes a beacon for players who are looking to complete an objective. Like the world itself, the placement of these campfires is randomized, and you don't have to get too close to one before the large prompt to rest appears on-screen, followed by an equally large prompt to wake up and explore the next randomly generated world that you've stumbled upon.

The second object is a door that looks suspiciously like a gravestone. Taking the door returns you to a place that looks like the first area, albeit changed due to random generation. From here, you can either return to your journey via the campfire or take the door to see a list of the game's single screen of credits. For those looking for a traditional game ending, this is the closest you'll get.

The final object type you encounter are blue orbs, whose telltale sign is floating rocks. Their presence serves as the game's only indicator of any kind of progress, as they convey the story of the developer. It talks about game design before ultimately discussing how games are designed differently from other art forms. The freeform design has no restrictions, but it also comes with the caveat of being able to transform into something that the creator didn't originally envision. What you get is ultimately a diary of the designer's creation and how they let the art transform itself because it was the first concept that came to mind. It is an unusual twist for a game, but it is refreshing since it doesn't follow any of the expected story themes in the genre.

Eventually, as Pattern stops producing the blue orbs, the experience is left up to interpretation. Some may see it as a never-ending tech demo where the title becomes adept at producing lo-fi landscapes with no load time. It doesn't have too many objects to work with, so repetition is very obvious early on, and there are no options to tinker with, like resolution or field of view levels, but it remains impressive with those limitations in mind.

Others may see it as more of a meditative experience. The changing landscapes and lack of danger make it a peaceful place to walk around, and the soundtrack reinforces this meditative ideal. Some of the instruments used give the game a horror vibe, but the soundtrack goes for a new age calm style. The lack of voices and sound effects keeps the relaxing vibe going, and the only thing that breaks that up is the sudden song shift that abruptly occurs when you wake up somewhere else after resting at a campfire.

Due to its nature, it is difficult to rate Pattern like you would a traditional video game. It feels like a germ of an idea that has been released to the public in its current form; it's different from what the developer originally intended, but it's fascinating nonetheless. The decision to turn it into a diary makes it an artistic endeavor more than a traditional game with an explicit goal, and its endless nature can have several interpretations, none of which can be considered wrong. Regardless of score, your decision to try Pattern is dependent on whether you enjoy the genre; those who do will find this to be an experience that'll stick with them for some time.

Score: 7.0/10

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