NaissanceE Review (PC)

“Naissance” is French for “birth” I believe, so is a “naissancee” someone who is preparing to be birthed? Whatever, according to developer Limasse Five it’s actually a first-person puzzle/platformer game in a blocky universe made entirely in black and white. Please add this definition As for the game, I’ve been looking for a nice new first-person exploration/puzzle game to challenge me (Portal pining) so let’s hope NaissanceE can stimulate my brain matter.

The setup for NaissanceE is rather hard to explain, because there isn’t really one. You’re a female character who wakes up in a strange, stark world where everything is made up of white and black blocks, even the creatures/robots that inhabit it. Light can help or hinder you as some blocks react differently to it. Your goal is to avoid getting lost and to escape this dream-like underground place. And that’s pretty much it. There's no real story to speak of, it’s all about seeing the world and getting through it alive.

Some of the architecture design is amazing

And it really is quite a starkly beautiful place. It’s like an abstract dream, a muted cubist wonderland. Light is used to wonderful effect, filtering through every crack and often proving vital to progression. Then just when you’re thinking “this is all a bit too Portal” the game massively opens up into an entire vertical underground city like something out of Lord of the Rings made in Minecraft with no colour. What’s even cooler is that it pulls off the wonderful trick that very few games do of showing your progression through the levels, so often you’ll see an area miles below you of interest then half an hour later you’re down there and can look up and see where you came from. It’s really cool. The “creatures” that call this world home are cool too, from giant block-made slugs sliding down the wall that you can hitch a lift on to the black blocks that flee from light which are rather cute.

Despite the lack of colour NaissanceE is an interesting and lovely world to explore, but there’s no real reason to. Aside from finding a way out there’s nothing to discover, no hidden paths or fun secrets, with the exception of an endless stairway that turned out to be nothing but an irritation. Despite the open-looking areas attempting to discover another way to your objective often results in either death or just getting stuck and having to reload, which is a case of the designers choosing aesthetics over practicality. If I’m supposed to be heading downwards (the level’s called “Going Down” after all) and I see a platform below me I can jump to, I’ll try it. I don’t want to have to commit suicide because I dared to explore.

Fine until you have to navigate it.

The biggest problem the game has is that it is far too reliant on trial-and-error puzzles rather than any real brain-teasers and, more crucially, first-person platforming, which is a bad idea at the best of times and downright painful when not handled correctly – as it often is in NaissanceE. Fiddly pixel-perfect jumps are annoying enough, but things get really frustrating when you add quickly moving platforms, overhanging blocks to hit your head on while jumping and falling, and having to run and jump several times in quick succession.

Running wouldn’t be so bad except Limasse Five have added an “innovation” to the running that forces you to tap Left Mouse Button as you run to keep breathing. Yes, we’ve finally reached the stage where “breathing” is a button. It’s cute at first as it gives the mouse something to do other than look around, but having to hold Shift to run, concentrate on jumping over small gaps quickly and having to worry about tapping LMB every second means this “innovation” loses its appeal fast. Sometimes the reason why no one’s done an idea before isn’t because they didn’t think of it, it was because they thought it was a dumb idea.

If this thing only says “yes” and “no” I’m packing it in

And just to make things more annoying, let’s talk about saving. I think I’ll fill this whole paragraph offering some advice to the developers. Firstly, save just before fiddly jumping bits or annoying areas guys, not in a confusing corridor a minute beforehand. Secondly, save after as well so we don’t have to repeat that annoying section if, say, we get stuck in an endless staircase afterwards and turn the game off in frustration. Thirdly, please don’t save again immediately after reloading a save, it’s pointless and unplayably chugs the game. Finally, ‘Going Down’. If you’re going to have a level set around a massive, open drop that you have to navigate downwards by traversing tiny staircases and narrow ledges, please save progress more than a couple of times. I think a decent percentage of my frustration with NaissanceE comes from the obtuse and ill-thought-out save system.

There will definitely be people who sync with NaissanceE and its weird stark dreamlike world, which will probably be entirely down to that world itself rather than the gameplay. It truly is a beautiful place to look at and make your way through, with the cute inhabitants and excellent uses of light and shadow adding to the loveliness. Unfortunately the gameplay itself is lacking, comprised as it is of badly-thought-out first-person platforming and mostly uninteresting trial-and-error puzzles. Exploration of the compelling world only ever results in dead ends, getting stuck or straight death, the save system is broken, the “breathing” mechanic gets tedious fast, and just to add to the misery V-Sync doesn’t work (and the game suffers for it with regular screen-tearing). NaissanceE could’ve been a neat game but Limasse Five should’ve just stuck with making a cool artistic world and left the actual gameplay at home. I may have then complained that there wasn’t enough game in it, but at least I would have actually enjoyed it.

Top Game Moment: Stepping out on to the balcony at the top of ‘Going Down’ and looking downward is a real “wow” moment. The giant blocky slugs are cool too.

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