Shapes. We deal with them on a daily basis yet they are almost forgotten, however we have seen many game developer’s utilise shapes to showcase some interesting ideas. Thomas Was Alone provided a deep tale of society, one that allowed us to care for the multitude of different shapes on screen. Then there was Sound Shapes which offered us a beautiful musical selection as we tackled some difficult platforming sections, all as a simple shape.
Expand is another title looking to focus on a shape, a simple square to be exact. Expand offers its own version of deep meaning, as well as a beautiful musical selection and ever-increasing levels of difficulty. Though Expand may have traits from other successful uses of shapes, Expand quickly showcases that behind its simple design there is a unique amount of challenge.
I recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with Expand, as I got to experience an early build which was showcased at this year’s Tokyo Game Show.
Expand’s most noticeable trait is the colour scheme, which is a simple Sin City-esque motif of black and white. Controlling a small square I was thrown into this black and white world without any reasoning, and there isn’t any details as to who you are or why you are here, there is just the simple urge to move forward. The world within Expand reacts to your locations, with objects moving and expanding (see what I did there) as you continue to explore, it all it seems like basic exploration until a new colour is introduced. For example Red, shows that danger is near.
Throughout Expand you must control the square through ever-increasing levels of challenging locations. These require you to avoid being squashed by the ever-moving world, as well as avoiding the newly included red objects which will kill you instantaneously.
Playing with a PC gamepad (which is recommended upon entering the game) I had to pay close attention to the world around me, with one wrong move dealing a fatal blow. During my time with Expand I died consistently, but as with most challenging platformers these days there is an instant respawn making the pain of death a little less frustrating. Checkpoints are generously spread throughout each location, which allowed me to learn from each death.
Rushing through these puzzles was not the way to go and I paid the price accordingly. In order to succeed you must watch the world and memorise how it will react as you progress. Learning the pattern of the world is only one part to success, you must also learn to adapt on the fly. There were times where the world around me reacted differently to what I had expected, these were the times where your quick reflexes will lead to success. Expand’s puzzles continue to increase in difficulty as you progress, and having only experienced two out of the five Worlds, needless to say the challenge looks to be quite tough.
Speaking of speed, this was my only gripe with Expand. Our square moves at a slow pace as does the world you, most likely to compensate with your shapes lack of speed. The slow nature of Expand was something that took some getting used to and made me over-correct myself a handful of times. Sound Shapes allowed players to sprint and increase the speed of movement, but this ability was totally optional. The ability to increase the speed of the world around me, or perhaps being given the option to re-tackle each world at a faster pace would definitely be something I appreciate. Those wanting to sit back and enjoy the slow-paced exploration can, but those wanting a fast-paced experience may find Expand isn’t for them.
Expand also tries to offer a thoughtful adventure, it does this by presenting us with wise questions and statements – think Thomas Was Alone or The Swapper. Having only experienced such a small section of Expand, I didn’t get quite a grasp of the deeper meaning behind these statements, which is certainly something I’m interested in seeing in the final release.
The prolific statements are enhanced by the ominous, yet soothing soundtrack. Expand is best played with a quality set of headphones (as recommend) as you hear the music and the world work in unison to provide an intense experience. At this stage the combination of wise statements and music work quite well, but we will see how it comes together in the final product.
Expand is scheduled to release in 2015 for PC, Mac and Linux. I was told the experience would be “short but sweet” clocking in at about two hours to complete, with the possibility of an endless procedural mode and a level editor to be included if the interest is there. For more information on Expand, visit the official website located here.