According to the Beatles, All You Need is Love; a truism most video game developers have failed to catch on with. They’re more likely to follow the reasoning that Happiness is a Warm Gun, and so to say there’s space for some proper romance – grown up romance – in games, then, is an understatement.
Enter A Fold Apart, an open-hearted game from indie dev Lightning Rod Games that, through its abstract collage stylisations, gives us a sympathetic look into the difficulties of long distance relationships.
A puzzle game at its core, part of the experience is literally folding the screen to bring your protagonists closer to an exit and, ultimately, one another. At the start of the game you get to choose the two protagonists, which can be any combination of two generic male and female sexes – a welcome bit of inclusiveness. I opted for two chaps, one of whom works with kids as a teacher, thoroughly content with his life in the countryside, the other of whom is an architect and has to move to a distant city for work.
Happy at first despite the enforced distance, the relationship slowly starts to unravel. The main form of communication between the partners is texting, and the game doesn’t shy away from how even the most seemingly clear and well-intentioned texts can be misinterpreted, or don’t convey enough of the genuine intention embedded in them.
Both of these characters really and truly care for each other. We as the player-observer always realise this, and share their distress when meanings are lost. We’ve all been there; a joke taken badly, an absence interpreted as indifference, and that instinctive understanding provides a great motivation to bring them together.
This is where the puzzles come in. The action takes place in windows laid out as collage, and you can fold, flip, rotate and unfurl them to connect your little lovelorn avatars to the exit. Ingeniously, these connections are narrated by your avatar as a thought process, with them reaching decisions and understanding as the puzzles are solved. You see the perspective of both lovers, and therefore you don’t fall into the trap of thinking either one is being silly, or overdramatizing the situation.
The game’s splits into chapters, and each chapter introduces more ways to manipulate the collage. There’s a great hint system that actually plays the next move for you if you’re getting stuck, which I did on a few occasions, because lateral thinking is, um, not exactly my forte. So that was a real bonus, because I wanted to get to the end and see the conclusion; I wanted to see these two back together.
The collage approach is complemented by a charming, unsophisticated graphical style that’s sort of similar to Animal Crossing, or the PSVR’s Ghost Giant. Gameplay wise, we’re looking at perspective-puzzle similarities to Fez, Monument Valley, and even Pullblox to a certain degree. It never quite hits the height of those titles, but who can say what Lightning Rod could achieve with the time and budget, though? I’m definitely intrigued enough to see what they do next.
A Fold Apart scripts the lovers’ conversations in such a way that you connect with them almost instantly. They’re both kind hearted, but flawed, like an actual human being; they never strike you as anything other than sincere.
I mean, sure, there are stumbles and their manner of speech can be a little bit generic but that’s the trade-off. You’ve got to broadly sympathise with them without taking sides. Trying to blend the concept of togetherness and estrangement expressed as puzzles? That’s a really hard job, that, and even if it hasn’t been achieved fully, the logic-based challenges describing thought processes and emotional connections is pretty remarkable to be honest.
So A Fold Apart may not be the be all and end all, or the final story on love and togetherness, but it should be applauded for its intelligence, both emotional and logical. It’s a winning, philosophical puzzler that takes a sympathetic look at the things that keep us apart… and bring us back together.