Ice Pick Lodge is, to those who follow such things, a developer with a specific reputation to uphold. The studio’s last game, Pathologic, was a critical and cultural smash in native Russia and gathered a slew of awards for its ambitions and achievements.
The English-language release however was so badly translated that the game was almost unplayable despite its obvious brilliance – though it did lead to a cult following that ramped up excitement for the Ice Pick’s next game.
That next game is The Void; a much better translated and graphically compelling game about a soul trapped in a sort of joyless, dying purgatory. We think. It’s hard to tell really because although The Void can actually be understood by English audiences that doesn’t mean that the game itself is any more accessible as a result. If anything it's even more difficult to get your head around now that you don't have the excuse of faulty translation to hide behind.
The Void is a stunningly original-looking game
The difficulties start the moment the game is booted up and you find yourself standing in an architectural wetdream of twisted staircases and calm waters that reach to the horizon, punctuated only by grey islands and the slow whispering of a young girl. The voice of the young girl, delivered with aching patience and deliberate indifference, tells you to collect Colour, to store it inside your Hearts, transmute it into Nerva and then to wade into The Void.
To say that it makes very little sense would be an understatement akin to claiming that chewing barbed wire can hurt a little bit. Crucially though, the indecipherable situation you find yourself in isn’t a bad thing and is in fact so well accomplished by Ice Pick that it’s possible the feeling of being lost is actually a large part of what The Void is about. You aren’t necessarily supposed to be comfortable in The Void.
Bringing Colour to The Void is critical to surviving
With a bit of experience and patience the world slowly starts to swim into focus and you learn some of the rules that govern this strange place. You discover that you died and that your soul has somehow become stuck in this new plane where Colour is a rare, sentient commodity that has rebelled against the natives and has mostly abandoned the occupants to starve to death. You learn that you need to harvest this Colour if you want to avoid starving yourself and that the Brothers and Sisters who reside on the islands around you are dangerous forces of nature who must be beguiled and battled.
None of this knowledge has any frame of reference though; you just learn to accept it as part of the setting as you start to surrender your bewilderment to the game. That, or you get annoyed that you don’t understand the game and you snap your disc in half – that’s the danger of this type of game. If you’re willing to lay down before this confusion then The Void has the power to sweep you off your feet and plunge you head first into a visually intriguing and viciously inventive dreamland. If you’re the type of person who has to understand everything though then The Void is a messed-up mass of misinformation and you’ll likely loathe it as such.
Which is a shame because there's a lot to love in The Void and just because it appears to be a complex and over-wordy art-game on the surface doesn't mean that it can't also be a deeply tactical adventure game with great graphics. Hell, it's even got naked ladies in it - lots of them!