Review: Thirty Flights of Loving

There’s a quote from Orson Welles that goes: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” If there’s a more fitting game than Thirty Flights of Loving to lend credence to Welles’ poetic musings, I’ve yet to play it.

Know this: Thirty Flights of Loving stretches the traditional definition of game almost to breaking point. Your job is to think, hold up on the keypad and on occasion press e, although you rarely ever have to do that. Whether you’ll like it depends a great deal on which bits of Gravity Bone you liked, assuming you’ve played Chung’s former entry in the Citizen Abel series. If you like the parts where you got to do things, Flights might not be for you. Play it anyway.

Chung’s latest is reminiscent of Gravity Bone, sure - employing more than a few of its narrative tricks, not to mention its delightfully spartan demeanour - but it’s tighter, prettier, sharper. Better. It boasts a respect for the player that the heavy hitters lack almost entirely, leaving you to join the dots at its conclusion, to prowl around detective-style during round two and three. There’s no text or dialogue. Everything you need to piece together its fragmented tale is there in the world; on a table laden with fake passports and airport blueprints or… well, it’s not worth the risk of ruining the delight of finding this all out for yourself.

It has none of Bone’s dodgy platforming, though, or any of the objective-based, secret agent shenanigans. Instead, it drags you through its abridged tale of a heist-gone-wrong at breakneck speed; putting to splendid use a sequence of jump cuts, montages and environmental tricks than hit like a punch on the nose and make sure there’s not a damn thing besides walking away from the computer to haul you out of the story. It hurtles along whether you’re ready to go for the ride or not, with the rich attention to detail and breathless pace evoking the praxis of a short story as much as the more obvious comparisons to cinema.

Basically, it puts responsibility in your hands to put together the many vignettes, montages and fast cuts that, coupled with the environmental detail, eventually resemble a coherent story.

And it takes a couple of goes to unscramble that all. There’s no shame in that. Flights moves at such ferocious pace that it almost conditions you to sprint along with it. At one point there’s a corridor lined with posters that flesh out the story, but after a blistering volley of jump cuts and montages I darted past them without the slightest of thoughts. It took a second play to let that richness take hold, but that’s a positive thing.

True; it weighs in at £3.99 and if you play it just the once it’s a ten-minute dalliance. But it endures far, far beyond those ten-minutes and it seems rotten to judge such flair by its length, and not its mastery.

(While we’re on a slightly sour note: it’s also prone to freezing, seemingly at random, which is a shame because it flows beautifully when it’s allowed to.)

Flights also comes bundled with Gravity Bone and a candid developer commentary that is arguably the more exciting prospect – offering insight into the project’s inception, Chung’s development wonts and many of the subtle techniques put to good use in both Thirty Flights of Loving and Gravity Bone (forced perspective and why casinos are such great teachers of level design, one of the more interesting trains of thought).

It perhaps can’t match Gravity Bone’s last moments in terms of just how much sentiment is wrought from so little – during its ten slender minutes it runs the gamut of emotions but never quite to such dazzling effect as during Gravity Bone’s finale – but it’s a better work overall, benefiting greatly from the curtailed platforming and a slew of snazzy narrative tricks. A thunderous lesson in how to evoke so much with so little, then, and one that proves with confidence what we know yet rarely see channelled to such exhilarating effect: limitations are everything.

9/10

This review was published at BeefJack.

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