I’d often have split seconds of deliriousness while catching microsleeps during every wink while I was sleep deprived on buses during my college commutes; my second long nightmares and fever dreams would bleed into my reality on waking, just for a second. Images of beauty and twisted reality would flash in my head for a second before I came back to the real world.
That’s what Pid feels like and, after 343 deaths during my eight hour playthrough, that juxtaposition between a nightmarish experience and childlike wonder also serves as an ideal metaphor for what your time with the game might be like.
Pid starts with Kurt, the main character, falling asleep on the bus after school. It’s not too long before you obtain a small mote of moonlight that sticks to your hand and, upon being thrown forwards or downwards, sticks to objects and emits a column of glimmering anti-gravity. And so begins the gradually expanding puzzle mechanics of developer Might and Delight’s Pid.
The worry I have with any puzzle game is that, as interesting or lovingly crafted as it may be, it will eventually become so difficult that it’ll seem like there’s no hope of finishing it without inhuman reflexes or a strategy guide. One of Pid’s strengths is that every puzzle, except for one obscure riddle halfway through the game, feels manageable. Even as new rules are introduced, such as platforms that beams don’t stick to or timed switches, it still feels like there’s enough wiggle room to figure out your own solution. This is largely in part because all of the puzzles in Pid are related to navigation in environments that, as confined as they may be in some cases, feel open enough for you to experiment with beams so that sometimes it might even feel like you’re cheating.
Developer Might and Delight is made up of many of the team members from developer GRIN, creators of such games as Bionic Commando: Rearmed. While the latter focused on tight mechanics more than its paper thin story, the narrative of Pid is crafted just as well as the controls and puzzles that you’d expect from the makers of Rearmed.
After donning his space helmet and backpack and ending up on the wrong planet, Kurt, the main character is told by an elder at the bus station not to worry – the bus will be there any minute. “That’s a lie,” says the ghostly child waiting at the bus stop (who’s also played by the second player during co-operative play), “he was just a kid when he began waiting.” And so begins your quest to discover what went wrong with the transit system which, as you’d expect, goes much deeper than just how horrible commuting normally is.
The beautifully crafted environment has a sort of kid’s toybox feel to it, with enemies and characters having a blocky clockwork aesthetic that fits well with the progressively dark and foreboding world. As the plot unfolds, much of the design of the world, the dialogue from the characters, and the moody instrumental music stays in tune with the often dark nature of what’s happened with the world. Breathtakingly vibrant areas in villages and moonlit caves capture the breaks in immediate danger, while pitch dark caverns have a pervasive uneasiness about them.
I said that the game isn’t so difficult that players will be held back from finishing it, but that’s mainly in terms of the complexity of the puzzles. The game is beatable, sure, but it keeps your list of tools and abilities to a minimum because you’ll need to focus your mind on having good reflexes for some of the late game areas. Part of that judgement feels like it’s because of how I would usually opt for what seemed like the most expedient way to navigate through the hazard-laden areas in the back quarter of the game. Despite the increase in difficulty towards the end, I still managed to finish the game in a cumulative total of eight hours with a brief break to shake off some frustration. Although I took that break, it wasn’t because I felt the game was being unfair. It’s worth noting that I played on the PC version using a PS3 Dualshock controller via the free MotionJoy program, and that the game has native controller support for PC Xbox 360 controllers.
There’s a co-operative mode in the game, very loosely tied into the story, that helps alleviate some of the difficulty. Although each player can only have two motes of light beams active, as is the same with single player, combining these beams can lead to some solutions to problems that wouldn’t have existed in single player. Combined with frequent spots throughout the level to bring your compatriot back to life, it’s a good way to get help in some of the more challenging portions of the game. Unfortunately, this co-operative mode is local play only, with no online support.
As the credits rolled at the end of the game and my sweaty hands set down the controller after a particularly gruelling endgame sequence, my triumph over the game’s difficulty was equalled by the sense of closure with the narrative. The entirety of Pid felt like a dark and beautiful dream, like some hybrid of a Pixar and American McGee story, with the simple and laser precise controls necessary to navigate it. With controls that meet the demands of the gameplay, Pid makes room for the effect of the music, writing, and visual design that are all in service of making the player feel a sense of wonder as they’re being challenged. There have been a lot of outstanding downloadable games this year, and Pid deserves to be among them.
Note: The PC version of the game was played for review and was provided by the publisher. The game is also available for download on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Disclosure: Pid was represented by Reverb Communications PR manager, Gregory Hutto, who was a former staff member at Vagary.TV and worked with the author up until his departure from Vagary.