(This review is not spoiler-free; however, I will mark the section in which there are spoilers with “spoilers begin here” and “spoilers end here” in bold. Unlike most of my reviews, I have decided not to separate the review into various sections, as there is simply not enough substance to do so.)
:THE LONGING: is a video game; however, it is very, very different than other video games. It has no legitimate gameplay mechanics other than single-click interaction with objects. There is no object of the game; there is no “winning”, no “losing”, no “bad guys” to defeat. It is simply an experience, and while you do control it to some degree, it is something that happens to you as opposed to you happening to it. The thing about :THE LONGING: that sets it apart from other games is that the games ends after 400 days in real time. You can’t set your computer’s clock foward to skip days (if you do it punishes you.) However, the time can be sped up slightly, which I will explain later.
Mild spoiler begins here, but it takes place in the first 30 seconds of the game so it’s not a real spoiler.
The game opens with the introduction of you, a cute little guy known as “the shade”, and a giant stone wizard-looking man with a massive crown and beard, known as “the king”. The king tells you that his kingdom and his powers have faded, and that he is going to sleep for 400 days to gather his remaining power. When he awakes, you are told, he will end all fear and longing. You, the shade, are all that he has left, and your sole duty is to wake him after 400 days.
Mild spoiler ends here.
The gameplay consists solely of two things; walking and interacting. The Shade’s little den has an armchair and a very sparsely populated bookshelf, as well as a hole in the wall he calls his “fireplace”. The “walking” element is simply hold-clicking in one direction to make him walk either left or right, and diagonally to make him walk up or down stairs. The shade’s walking is very, very slow, and the only noise is the echo of his footsteps, which very much contributes to the vibe of sheer solitude in the caves. Occasionally, you will encounter items throughout the multitued of snaking hallways and huge open caverns; lumps of coal, bits of paper and books from the library cavern. The books are real literary text, and you can read them from the Shade’s bookshelf. I will admit that I did want to read all of them (there were some good classics in there), but sadly I didn’t have the time.
One feature that I did not like whatsoever at all is that the more you pimp up the shade’s home by making art with the paper and coal, and using the fireplace, etc., the faster time passes in the game; which means you can complete the game in less than 400 days. It’ll still take many months, but not all of them.
The game is designed to make you very, very emotionally attached to the shade. Every so often, text will pop up on the screen; it is the shade talking to himself. The shade has a lot of personality, and he is ugly in a cute way. (Especially when he smiles.)
Spoilers begin here.
There are four endings to this game, I am told. I only know of one ending (the one in which the shade is obedient to the king and wakes him after 400 days.) There is a portion of the king’s underground kingdom in which the shade says “this is the entrance to the kingdom. I don’t think the king should like me to go there.” I reckon this leads to another ending. I believe the shade can escape the caverns. I don’t know about the other other endings and I don’t want to look them up; I might replay the game someday.
I was very, very emotional when I chose to wake the king. I know it would mean the end of the game, and I was very emotionally attached to the shade. The giant stone king slowly, slowly rises from his throne, and the caverns all around crumble and crash down. The king says he has ended all fear and longing in the world by killing everyone in it; the king and his faithful servant, the shade, are all that’s left, and they can rule over the underground kingdom (and the entire world) in solitude, forever and ever.
Some months I finished the game, I emailed the developer and asked a few questions about the shade. The game starts with the shade coming out of the king’s hand; does that mean the shade was created by the king? How does he know English well enough to speak and read if he was never “born” and never taught English as you or I would have been? In the shade’s artwork, he depicts things such as daggers or spiders; how does he know what these things look like if he has never seen them before? To what degree can he understand the books he reads. For example, he has never seen a “whale”; therefore, how can he comprehend Moby Dick? The answer that I got back is that the shade was created by the king, and that the shade’s knowledge is simply a subset of the king’s knowledge. Also, knowledge of the external world and of things he had never seen comes from the ideology of Plato’s Theory of Forms.
Spoilers end here
All in all, I highly, highly recommend this title. It was a very emotional experience. However, I don’t think everyone would enjoy it; if you don’t see yourself as a person who would get emotional from that type of thing, or you would only play games for the “fun” mechanics or story as opposed to simply a medium of emotional expression, it’s probably not your thing. I know people that would just see it as a waste of their time. Still, I recommend it. It will probably inspire me for quite some time.
Also, after the game ends, it doesn’t let you keep playing. I reckon you have to install it on a new system or purge some file.