Forma.8 (Playstation 4 Review)
Forma.8 was not what I expected it to be. Marketed as a Metroidvania action-adventure, Forma.8 follows the classic structure of its forebearers by rewarding exploration with new powers that allow for further discoveries. The developers, MixedBag, have eschewed tutorials and objective signposting in favour of just letting the player figuring things out for themselves. There is no dialogue, or even much of a plot beyond the introductory cutscene which shows your adorable little probe droid crashing into the surface of an unknown planet in search of a nebulously-defined energy source. What narrative there is falls to the player’s interpretation as they explore the ruins left behind by whoever or whatever came before. Journey is the obvious touchstone here: Forma.8 echoes the former’s theme of gentle exploration in a broken world, all set to an ambient soundtrack.
Forma.8 looks beautiful, using a similar silhouetted art style to Badlands or Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet–the black vector graphics of the player character, the enemies and the environments contrasting with the pastel background. The environments look diverse enough, with soothing sunset backdrops giving way to organic lava tunnels and hard, right-angled industrial areas. The individual “rooms” that make up the world map feel massive, and the sense of scope is emphasised by the leisurely pace that your probe droid moves at. When the camera pulls back and the ambient soundtrack washes over the desolate landscape, Forma.8 feels less like a protagonist and more like a tourist, passing through an alien land that barely recognises its presence.
The game is at its best when it lets itself proceed at its naturally languid pace, letting the player soak in the atmosphere and take their time to uncover its secrets. But the game struggles when any kind of precision is required. The player-controlled droid floats through the environments with Newtonian clumsiness, and its defensive options are limited: for the majority of the game, all you have is a short-range shield attack and the ability to lay mines. The controls might be built for exploration, but the combat feels ripped from a twitch shooter. It’s easy to get hit, and it’s common for enemies to take half your life energy with a single hit. Moreover, the health drops you receive from defeated enemies only restore a fraction of what you lost. It reminds me of Ecco the Dolphin: another game dripping with atmosphere about floating through an alien world which demanded patience for its finicky controls and unforgiving challenge.
Outside of combat, there’s no denying that Forma.8 is slow. That’s not a problem in itself: I welcome any game that gives me a chance to revel in its beauty. But since combat is so punitive and the environments are so large, I often felt that it was taking too long to get back to where I was after I died. Aside from the sparse checkpoints, most of the time your probe is respawned at the entrance to a room: and if you happen to die on the other side, you’d better get used to a lot of backtracking.
To MixedBag’s credit, Forma.8 always has something new to offer: each new area throws up new enemies, each boss fight is distinct and the puzzles are generally one-offs, with little iteration or evolution. But this diversity means that there is no opportunity for the player to develop a sense of mastery. I didn’t feel like I was getting better at the game, since by the time I was comfortable with one concept, the game would pull the rug out from under me by throwing something completely new at me. And when I did win a difficult battle, it often felt more like I had been lucky with my shots than proved my ability. Rather than building on what the player has learned, the game ratchets up the difficulty of combat by throwing in more enemies or introducing enemies that explode on death, or forcing you to fight in a tight corridor over a pool of lava. And some of the one-off set pieces are truly asinine, such as one section where the player has to nudge an exploding crystal through a lava tunnel to clear wreckage. The stop-start nature of the task is bad enough, but since death comes easily and throws the player back to the checkpoint, it becomes maddeningly easy to lose minutes of progress.
There’s a lot to like in Forma.8, from its loving echoes of the classics that influenced it to its sense of ingenuity, but it requires a lot of patience to get the most out of. It’s framed like a gentle indie palate cleanser but plays like a post-Dark Souls action game: it doesn’t hand you anything and it expects you to make the most of it. The game expects you to give it your all, to commit to finding everything if you want the best out of it–because yes, Forma.8 has the gall to pull an Arkham Knight and gate the real ending behind 100% completion. It’s worth a look if you’re a fan of indie game artistry or die-hard Metroidvania collectathons, but it might put up more of a fight than you were expecting.
Editor’s Note: Forma.8 was written by our newest guest writer Patrick. So far he is an enigma, but we hope to get more of his work up soon!