In Between (Xbox One Review)
Death comes for us all eventually, but the meaning and potential after life is something that eludes us all. We continue to contemplate if death is the end -a stagnant gloom to cease our very existence- or just the beginning of something new entirely. The one thing that never fades is our fear of death itself. Having to accept that we’ll no longer be a part of the world, or life itself for that matter. We don’t know what to expect next and the thought of it can daunting to some, especially when death’s door is closer than we expect it to be. In Between conveys to us a dying man’s life story through a series of flashbacks and monologues detailing his regrets and fondest memories. Developer Gentlymad takes us on an emotional gut-wrenching journey through a man’s last moments in life in his fight against cancer.
In Between places you in the shoes of an unfortunate protagonist that has, for some time now, been fighting a losing battle with cancer. As he’s lies on his deathbed, he reflects on his past, present, and the future that he will never get to see. Saying goodbye to his family, friends, and his daughter that will grow up without him. In Between’s story is bleak at the best of times. It’s short and precise, getting across a very personal message of a man’s battle with life and ultimate acceptance of death. No one really knows the burden of grief that comes with having cancer- other than those affected directly- but In Between tries to give us that insight, to better understand those who are going through the struggle.
As the story progresses you’ll experience all five stages of grief; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Each step relates to a specific chapter in our protagonist’s life and reflects directly within the puzzling stages that you need to traverse. Denial will have you running from what you fear most with darkness enveloping the stage, the only way to defeat said darkness is to face it directly; confronting your own denial. The more interesting stages such as those found in the Bargaining chapter have you control two characters simultaneously, each with differing paths and obstacles to overcome.
The stages themselves have a wrought form about them. With cracked walls and decayed, ruined interiors; a juxtaposition for our protagonists current state of health. Brown dreary walls and rusted machinery give a sense of dilapidation about them. The style of the stages does well to dawn and sense of withering within our character but the lack of overall colour and constant use of varying shades of brown make it hard to define what is an obstacle that will do us harm and what is part of the foreground. Spikes have a faded brown colour that blends in with the walls that they are attached to and if you are moving quite quickly -trying to navigate a tricky trap- you’ll hardly notice these nasty protrusions and subsequently die.
Gravity is your main means of traversal. Using the right analog stick you can shift the centre of gravity allowing you to run on walls and ceilings. Shifting gravity also affects in game objects as well, such as: boxes, spike traps and some environmental hazards. Timing is another factor you’ll need to consider alongside the Gravity mechanic. Being on your toes and having quick responses is necessary when you’re trying to pass any level. Traps and obstacles are usually connected in one form or another, meaning if you think you’re in the clear after avoiding a spike then you’re more than likely going to be struck by something else in a few seconds. These continuous deathtraps ensure that you will need to be on the move at all times to survive. Unfortunately In Between’s controls are not as responsive as you’d wish and more often than not you are either just not fast enough to make the escape or maybe a tad too fast and die none the less.
In Between starts off difficult and doesn’t get much harder than it is but the difficulty can, at times, be overwhelming. When you’re currently invested in this down-to-earth personal story, all you’ll wish to see is how it unfolds; and maybe learning a life lesson or two along the way. However, you are forced to traverse aggravatingly difficult levels that could make some people give up on the game entirely only a few stages in. I’m not shy when it comes to difficult games -in fact the harder the better in my opinion- but when such a meaningful story is locked behind a rather steep difficulty barrier, I can’t help but think that there would be a better way of telling the story than there is now, or maybe just dial down the difficulty a notch.
There is one saving grace of In Between’s difficult level design, you don’t have to play all of them to get to the end of the the journey. For each step within the five stages of grief there are 12 levels to overcome but you only need to complete 9 in order to move onto the next stage of grief. You won’t have to worry about any adverse effects of missing a few stages either -In Between isn’t that complex to fire multiple endings/scenarios at you- so you can feel free to continue without doubt following you.
All games have their negatives and positives but with In Between the two can conflict and impact the player. On one side you have a very meaningful story about a man’s battle with cancer that not many people tend to tackle; especially in the videogame industry. One which can affect us on a multitude of levels. On the other hand you have the severe difficulty curve and patience it will require to overcome each of In Between’s stages. Some stages may be too time consuming and infuriating that consequently could drive people away from the message the developers are trying to convey. However, these two aspects of the game can be seen differently. The story of a man battling cancer could very well be too dark a subject matter for folk to handle and they may shy away; maybe hitting a more personal note. The difficulty of the stages may actually be appealing to some and could care less about any plot or messages the developers want people to know. In the end though, I had fun. Some areas were touch and go, often urging myself to turn the game off altogether out of sheer frustration. Fortunately the story brought me back and my curiosity of how the game would unfold kept me grinding on to the conclusion.