|Most of the levels in The Beginner's Guide are surreal|
- Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
- Developer: Everything Unlimited Ltd
- Publisher: Everything Unlimited Ltd
- Release Date: 1 October 2015
- Time played: 1.6 hours
What is itEverything Unlimited Ltd is a name that developer Davey Wreden has adopted for any games that are developed by him since The Stanley Parable; in reality, there are several other people involved in the development of his games such as programmer Jesús Higueras, artist Andreas Jörgensen and designer William Pugh (who assisted Wreden on the standalone version of The Stanley Parable). But, Wreden has been the lead designer throughout so what do we know about him and how did he get to developing The Beginner's Guide?
Wreden started working on The Stanley Parable in 2009 as a mod for Half-Life 2. It was completed in 2011 but a high-definition stand-alone version of the game wouldn't be released until 2013. Both the mod and the stand-alone remake of the game received critical acclaim thanks to its intriguing yet humorous analysis on video game mechanics. The game scored a respectable 7/10 here at Choicest Games considering it was released at a time when walking simulators were only starting to find their feet (mind the pun) and to be honest, I wasn't initially a fan. Most critics and players however, loved the game as it holds a Metascore of 88 and a Metacritic User Rating of 8.0. Steam users also love the game as 91% of the 30,736 reviews rated it positively. The game was also a commercial success having sold over a million copies within a year.
In 2015, Wreden along with his Everything Unlimited team, released The Beginner's Guide, another walking simulator-type game where you explore multiple games created by an enigmatic developer known as "Coda" all the while listening to narration by Wreden himself. The game wasn't as well received by the critics as The Stanley Parable (at least according to Metacritic) but it still achieved a Metascore of 76, which is nothing to sneeze at and a Metacritic User Score of 7.5. Steam users gave the game a "Very Positive" Rating (86% of the 12,214 reviews were rated as positive).
How I got itI actually got The Beginner's Guide along with a whole bunch of other indie titles back in August 2016 as part of the "Humble Indie Bundle 17". I enjoyed Wreden's work on The Stanley Parable so I was intrigued to see what he would do next.
|Some of the levels are really neat, like this one full of wacky game ideas|
What I like:
Profound themesThere are lots of themes running in parallel in this game and despite The Beginner's Guide holding your hand in terms of directing you where to go, everything else is very much open to interpretation: this is definitely not a game in the traditional sense and would be the gaming equivalent of an arthouse movie.
Wreden battled with a bout of depression after completing The Stanley Parable and the game receiving critical acclaim. As Wreden mentions in a blog post in 2014:
Basically here's what happened: after the launch of Stanley Parable, I became a bit depressed. Largely this is because in those months, SO much attention was directed at the game and at me personally. And while I could not even begin to put into words how utterly grateful and astonished and humbled I am by the enormous response to Stanley Parable (all of you are the reason I can now devote my life to this kind of work), those months after launch were intensely intensely stressful.
One of the things that Wreden mentioned that really resonated with me was the fact he described himself as feeling "unhinged" between two emotional states of feeling a sense of ownership over "this thing" he had worked on "for four years" and "the loss of having turned that ownership over to hundreds of thousands of people".
I feel like The Beginner's Guide serves multiple purposes for Wreden: it acts as a means for him to explore his depression and the way he felt after the release of The Stanley Parable: the player character is often trying to escape prisons and reach happiness represented by lanterns (as they also represent warmth and light). Wreden is also conflicted in that he wants to seek validation whereas there is perhaps a darker part of his psyche that just wants to be left alone, to go about creating his own brilliant but misunderstood creations.
It's hard to explain, so it's probably best if you just experience the game for yourself but it offers plenty of moments for introspection.
Excellent narrationDespite Kevan Brighting narrating The Stanley Parable so well (and it'd be hard to beat the quality of his performance), Wreden actually does a really good job in his own right when it comes to narrating The Beginner's Guide.
Great soundtrackMusic is used sparingly in The Beginner's Guide but when it is used it's definitely effective at amplifying those emotions.
Cool game ideasDuring the early part of the game, there are a lot of cool game ideas which involve thinking outside the box and breaking away from typical gaming tropes (e.g. a first-person game where you can only walk backwards). Some of the most interesting and unique games are born from these kind of thought processes and it reminds me of a very interesting interview with Lucas Pope of Papers, Please fame that I highly recommend.
What I dislike:
InsincerityAlthough it's not ever spelt out who exactly Coda is (except for Wreden suggesting he's just a fellow game developer he knows) it's strongly implied that Coda is a fictional character or at least a nickname for a part of Wreden's own personality. Consequently, if you come to the same conclusion as I have, it feels a bit insincere that Wreden is in fact talking about himself yet pretending it's not.
However, you can't really blame him either: it's not easy leaving your own hopes and fears open to scrutiny.
LinearUnlike The Stanley Parable where you are rewarded with a multitude of endings depending on which paths you choose to take, this isn't the case with The Beginner's Guide which is a rather linear experience.
Limited interactivityThe game is basically a walking simulator with some very simple puzzles that you ultimately get help with solving anyway (although that hasn't stopped some people attempting to solve the puzzles without help). Consequently, interaction is very limited.
ShortThe game can be completed in under two hours, so it's obviously pretty short, but I actually think the game is the perfect length. The only reason I mention this here is as a reminder to those who judge a game's value on how many hours of gameplay you can get out of it.
No Steam Achievements and Trading CardsMind you, the game is pretty short and since it's more or less a linear game, it's probably pointless having Steam Achievements. The game also has no Steam Trading Cards.
Score – 7/10 (Good)The Beginner's Guide is about as far removed from The Stanley Parable as you can get with respect to its sombre tone and linear gameplay, however there are several ingenious games within games here and as a work of art that grants you several opportunities at introspection, it delivers.
Is the game worth $14.50 AUD?: No. The game is rather short and some wouldn't even consider it a proper game. I'd definitely recommend getting this on sale though if you're into arthouse indie games that make you stop and think.
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[ LINK: Official Everything Unlimited Ltd Website ]
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