As far as exploration games go, they’re hit and miss. A perfect modern example would be walking simulators Gone Home and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, which the developers attempt to push a story with some minor puzzles in order to keep players going, depending on the person you ask; these games could be consider art or the most boring thing you can play.
When you add confusion to an exploration game, it ends up becoming a task just to pay attention. This is the problem I had with Fire Face’s Small Radios, Big Televisions. The game takes place almost entirely in an abandon factory in which players must navigate through and solve puzzles to find an exit. Along the way you find cassettes, which after loading into your walkman transports you into gorgeous virtual worlds which will help you find the pieces to escape.
If there is something to say that this game does extremely well, it is the graphics and audio. While the factory and base levels look bland and boring, when the cassettes come into play, the world be comes vibrant and beautiful. In some puzzle solving areas, players may need to run the tapes through a magnet which distorts the tapes, loading after gives an almost disturbing look at what was once beautiful locations. The music itself are well done synth tunes that help set the tone for the game, relaxed and calm during the tapes normal, unmagnetized form, then distorting with the images after.
That is however, the most praise I can give the game. Small Radios, Big Televisions doesn’t do much to tell you what is going on or even seems to attempt to push in the right direction. Little snippets of story gets attempted between levels, comes out like a bad, confusing Conspiracy Theory in an attempt to keep the players thinking that there is something more to this world we’re stuck in.
The biggest sin however is the controls, instead of opting for a first person or platformer, Small Radios, Big Televisions takes a side view layout with a point and click style control. Players have control of a cursor that is centred to the screen that they use to click and investigate items/doors and operate puzzles. The problem with this style (at least experienced on the PS4) is that the camera continuously wants to reset itself, causing problems for puzzles based on how your cursor moves.
An example of such problem came early on in the second level, where there was a gear puzzle. The puzzle required an arm to be moved in a way that it would require the movable circular arm to be positioned in 12 o’clock hand position, however when moved to this spot it does not stay on its own. Attempting to position it along with a constant fighting camera made feats in Dark Souls look easy.
With all the problems I had with the controls, confusing puzzles, and complete lack of immersion into the game, I was tempted to turn off the game and never look back at. Pushing through the game didn’t change that feeling. Sadly the cassette’s beautifully made virtual worlds and music was not enough to save this exploration experiment for me.