Steven Lavelle is fond of making games that make you feel uncomfortable. In previous efforts he’s had you controlling an old man falling apart, function by biological function, in a nursing home, a parent searching vainly for their long-lost child, and a domestic housewife sleeping her way through a life of quiet tedium and violent night terrors. But all the confusing, deliberately-upset-worthy controls and overbearing dread-inciting atmospheres in his past games can’t hold a candle to Activate the Three Artefacts and then Leave. It makes it clear from the get-go that it wants your eyes and your brain to suffer. And even though it’s a totally abstract no-story, no-dialogue, affair, it’s such an unrelentingly negative piece of software that, oh my god, it must have been coded in C – – or something. Now, I’ll wait for the overwhelming sense of judgement there to die down, and in the next paragraph I’m going to try to explain just what ATTAATL is (I’ll use that acronym from here on out, for nobody’s convenience).
So what the hell is that? If anything that screenshot above just makes the game harder to understand going in. ATTAATL is a game where you have to make your way into an elaborate, labyrinthian cave system made up entirely of tessellating cubes (more accurately: hexahedra, according to wikipedia, though likely more accurately still: some geometric shapes that I don’t really get) and empty space. You move through this largely monochrome, highly disorientating maze, floating freely in 360 degrees of movement like a colour-blind acid trip, and you need to find the eponymous three artefacts. You touch them, thus activating them, after minutes upon minutes of going down a passageway, turning round to find out you have no idea where you are, and then panicking, and then you leave. I’m making this seem too easy, really. It’s all about feeling lost, and not knowing how the hell to get from where you are to somewhere that you can at least identify. As you move about your perspective on the three dimensional walls change in a worrying and seemingly unnatural way, and a hole in the wall leading to sweet freedom, while always remaining in the same place, can become next to impossible to find. At some point you will be methodically making your way down a passage only to realise with a nosedive of your stomach that you’re just making it up as you go along, and that the next turn you make could trap you entirely, forcing you to comb the walls in search of an escape-route, leaving you another entirely different type of lost.
I’m not making this sound enjoyable in the least, I know. It’s a somewhat unpleasant experience, and I can imagine that it would play even more unfortunate games with the eyes and brain of people unaccustomed to playing videogames, but it’s strangely compelling. The feeling you get from half an hour dread-walking your way through this game is unlike anything I’ve ever really felt. It doesn’t leave your intellect reeling in confusion and almost-pleasant shock, but instead leaves your intellect hopelessly out of commission. I don’t know why it’s good, but there’s something about a game, or a book, or a movie making you profoundly uncomfortable that undeniably appeals. I got lost, and panicked, and felt very odd, and almost gasped in my desire to just get the hell out of that terrible place, but it was an awesome experience. If this sounds to you like something that’s anything less than horrendous then you should download this right away and get cracking.