Metamorphosis | Review

Metamorphosis

Two things: 

1) No dad joke is too poor for me to use

2) This game is full of bugs

Sadly yes, I went there. Metamorphosis is a game about freedom, control and the machinations of the state, and being an insect both literally and metaphorically. So, y’know, light stuff. The story is spun in a unique way: waking one morning at your friend Josef’s house, you’re slightly perturbed when you start changing into a tiny bug — as well you would be — thus beginning a trippy journey. 

On the surface, this is part puzzle-platformer, part interactive mystery where you navigate around your friend’s house and solve environmental conundrums. Layered over that though… hoo boy, there’s quite a bit going on.

Whilst you’re scuttling around the shrunk-down environments, using pencils to ascend mountainous stacks of books, or getting jam on your feet appendages to climb vertical surfaces, a Kafka-esque tale is woven in the background.

Without spoiling too much (especially as the game is brief at around two hours), your life is entwined with the lives of the humans that tower over your rugose avatar. Eavesdropping from a miniaturised perspective, your friend Josef’s plight becomes something you have to help him escape, whilst simultaneously having your own physical and emotional adventure in parallel.

Gameplay-wise, Metamorphosis provides you with a small number of abilities to play with. You can scuttle very quickly, jump onto steeply-curved surfaces, operate some machinery by running in place — hamster-wheel style — and use sticky substances to climb higher. Oh, and perform a few other bespoke actions that I won’t spoil here.

Challenge is minimal, as the game’s intended more as a think-piece than action experience. Scrambling around the desks, offices and libraries of Josef’s home, the names of certain authors and historical figures leap out: the aforementioned Kafta, Kirkegaard and other philosophers, plus the names of historical Czech resistance fighters. These all feed into the atmos, and set your mind wandering across the crenellations of the story, to pick up the nuances. As I say, there’s a lot to unpack.

Your little buggy-form interacts and chats with others of your kind, looking for a way to restore himself to humanity. This sub-plot leads you in search of the mysterious ‘Tower’. Building? Organisation? Philosophy? That’s for you to discover. You’ll engage in a good few fetch quests and chores in search of the Tower, but thankfully the story beats are propulsive rather than tedious. Whether you’re leaping onto typed pages and avoiding print rollers, operating a gigantic pneumatic tube or forcing a record player to stop, each task may be mechanically simple but engaging.

Drawing you further into the environments are the visuals. Using the current Unreal Engine, it’s predictably solid but uniquely stylised. There’s a definite Bioshock Infinite / Dishonored vibe, with threatening and grotesque faces, and an overall aesthetic that reminds me of Eastern European animation blended with Cronenberg’s film of The Naked Lunch.

These insectile high-jinks merge to form a short, fairly simple game — on a mechanical level at least — but like many of the best indie efforts and immersive sims, it focuses on telling a mature tale in a unique and oblique way. A short ride through a philosophical wilderness, leaving you with as many questions as answers, Metamorphosis is a basic game wrapped around a complex story. Give it a go; it mite gnat bee the pest game ever, but it Mayfly in the face of your expectations. 

See? I warned you.

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