You're not welcome here, little guest
There’s the climactic plot twist that I should have seen coming, sure, but there are also the scores of hidden nooks and crannies, secret rooms that will forever remain unexplored on a distant, broke-down planet called Humphrey.
Pid (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Pid is about a wayward young astronaut named Kurt who, becalmed on a foreign planet, is trying to find his way home. He becomes embroiled -- as you do -- in a set of larger political machinations: a missing monarch, the breakdown of social institutions and infrastructure.
More pressing, though, is the fact that the planet in question in entirely inhospitable. The townspeople who aren’t aggressive are apathetic; a powerful shadow government goes out of its way to hunt Kurt down; and spikes, lasers, missiles, enemies, and traps abound.
Kurt navigates these obstacles with a small, magical gem he finds early in the game. When thrown, it produces a shaft of light capable of sending Kurt floating through the air. With two beams, it’s possible to juggle yourself through large swathes of Pid, never touching the ground. There are, of course, a litany of extra items at your disposal -- bombs, a jukebox that puts enemies to sleep, a bag of dirt that reveals secret paths -- but the light beam is the core mechanic, and it gets repurposed and exploited in any number of ways as Pid oscillates between puzzles, combat, and pure platforming.
Pid runs the gamut between elegance and finicky precision, but it’s all supported by a fundamental truth about games: flying is fun. Portal knew it, as did every Spider-Man game, as does Pid. Stringing together the perfect run through a set of obstacles, launching beams of light at just the right time, is immensely satisfying.
With so many secret areas, Pid cries out for a level-select option: the basic mechanics are fun enough to explore on their own, even divorced from the story. I’d love to have easy access to my favorite levels, or another chance to find the dozen-or-so collectibles scattered about. This is a missed opportunity.
There’s something melancholy about a lost little boy, but Pid’s use of perspective drives the point home: you are small and fragile in a dangerous place. The camera often pulls way back, making Kurt a small collection of pixels against the backdrop. It gives players a chance to survey the area for potential danger, and subtle parallax scrolling gives the world a nice sense of depth, of unattainably remote areas of the world. It’s not just that Pid’s toy-like art direction is striking -- it sets the scene for a moody, evocative game and plays on Kurt’s innocence and confusion. His head is just a touch bigger than normal, giving him the look of a highly ambulatory toddler. His naïveté doesn’t last long.
The architecture and level design in Pid take up the fantasy mantle where the visual design leaves off. Pid ostensibly takes place in familiar places -- there’s a theater, a dormitory, a kitchen, a basement -- but these buildings follow their own type of internal, childlike logic. Kurt meets other characters in the game, mostly robots speaking in idiomatic gobbledigook, and he often asks them questions like, “Where is the surface?” or “Can you tell me which direction the workshop is?”
Pid is at its best when Kurt is inside a building or series of rooms, where the level design is tight and confined. This is usually where the game is more focused on its puzzles than its action, thereby making the most of its core mechanics and minimizing the need to jump or move quickly or precisely. More importantly, though, it’s here that the central mechanics get pushed the farthest -- Kurt can float enemies into spikes, move lasers around, trap missiles in mid-air. The light beam can lure giant moth-like enemies out of your path or guide a lamp through a pitch-black maze.
Unfortunately, Kurt’s light beam and his floaty, inconsistent jumping and sluggish movement aren’t made equal for all tasks. The game is weakest in its open-air sections, during which the controls don’t live up to the demands of the action -- instead of planning and executing, Kurt is tasked with running, jumping, and dodging. Deaths no longer feel productive, just unforseen. The level design starts to wander aimlessly, leaving Kurt to meander without any real thrust or impetus.
Pid’s saving grace is that it is superbly paced, both mechanically and aesthetically. New concepts are introduced almost agonizingly slowly, but they’ll build on each other organically and naturally. Might & Delight did a great job making sure that players really master each mechanic before moving on. By the end of the game, players will be stringing long sets of sophisticated maneuvers together instinctively.
After a particularly harrowing chase scene in a dusty opera house, Kurt bursts through a trap door into a grassy meadow -- literally a breath of fresh air. This type of tension-and-release structure gives players time to recharge their batteries, to reflect on the things that Pid has to offer, and to -- hopefully -- summon enough resolve to keep going.
THE VERDICT - Pid
Reviewed by Joseph Leray