Also on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Lightning Rod Games
Developer: Lightning Rod Games
Let?s be honest: relationship drama is generally only interesting to the people within a relationship, and for the rest of the world it?s one of the most boring topics imaginable. Obviously, if you?re in the middle of the drama it seems like nothing else matters, but, really, it?s not that compelling unless you?re living through it.
That goes double if the couple in the question are needy, whiny, or codependent. And, unfortunately, that?s the case with A Fold Apart, a game that wants to be a charming puzzle-platformer but that comes off more as insight into the inner turmoil of a pair of people who are terrible at communicating.
This almost certainly isn?t what the game intended. After all, the story is told via text messages between a couple — known only as Teacher and Architect — who have to live apart for a year while the Architect goes off to the big city to work on a project. Teacher doesn?t follow because she doesn?t want to live in the city, and wants to stay behind at her job in the country. The game is designed so that you see them flirt back and forth, and tell each other how much they miss each other. That part is undeniably cute.
Unfortunately, both Teacher and Architect are also both incredibly touchy, and prone to flying off into fits of self-doubt and anger at the tiniest slights (whether real or perceived). As someone who — many years and a few relationships ago — was in a long-distance relationship, I totally get that distance puts a strain on things, and you worry about where the relationship will end up. But, like I said up top, it?s far less interesting to read about it than it is to live it. Seeing both Teacher and Architect spiral over innocuous comments is exhausting, and make you want to shout at the screen, ?Pick up the phone and call your partner!? Obviously, that would?ve made for a less interesting — but, at the same time, more emotionally healthy — game.
Perhaps the thing that bothered me most about the story was its conclusion. I don?t want to give away too much, since I know how annoying spoilers can be, but at the same time, it really pissed me off. The very best read of it is that it affirms neediness and codependency, as one half of the couple intentionally says something to set off the other, and it ends with the other person abandoning what they were doing because they didn?t feel strong enough to go on solo. That?s pretty messed up, and it was enough to make me go from kind of iffy about the game to straight-up disliking it.
(And it?s important to note that that?s the read you get playing A Fold Apart with the gender roles set as two women. Turn it into a more traditional hetero relationship, and suddenly you have the women emotionally manipulating the man into giving up his dream job. When the best way to spin something is that, hey, at least it?s just promoting unhealthy relationships, but at least it isn?t misogynistic, that seems sub-optimal.)
Now, if you don?t spend way too much time thinking about the gender and relationship dynamics of A Fold Apart — which is probably how most people will play it (though in my defense the game is built around telling the story of a relationship!) — is slightly less infuriating. From that perspective, it?s an okay puzzle-platformer where you slowly walk your characters through their text conversations until they start spiraling into sadness/anger/depression, at which point you have to fold the world around them to help them get from Point A to Point B.
This leads to some moderately challenging puzzles. Most of them are easy enough to figure out, though, and A Fold Apart is extremely generous with its hints (it?ll literally take you right up to the very last move for any given puzzle) and allows you to reset puzzles at any time, so if you?re after a tough-as-nails platformer, this isn?t it.
Presumably the game goes easy on players so they can focus on the unfolding story (pun not originally intended). However, if you hate the story as much as I did, that?s not a good thing. Again, I?ll freely admit that if you don?t spend too much time thinking about any of this, A Fold Apart is a mildly charming puzzle-platformer. But beneath that brightly-coloured surface, there?s a pretty noxious message.
Lightning Rod Games provided us with a Fold Apart Switch code for review purposes.