NaissanceE is a game of light and shadows, or at least that’s what it wants you to think it is. In reality it’s a little harder to describe; an experience constantly evolving, that at its core doesn’t quite fit into any one genre. It’s a game about exploration; about discovery and self interpretation that requires you to find your own way and make sense of your surroundings without the funneling and hand-holding we have become accustomed to.
It’s an incredibly ambitious project for such a small development team, one with numerous jaw dropping moments and incredible artistic direction, but it’s abundance of anomalous design decisions and a handful of seemingly minor but highly frustrating problems leaves it hanging somewhere in the middle of “fully recommended” and “proceed with caution.”
NaissanceE is in essence an art project with scraps of gameplay taped to it at odd angles. Making your way through the alien structure you find yourself in is largely a hands-off journey, but for what it lacks in interactivity is made up for by the sheer amount of visual and audio stimulation. The architecture is incredible in scope, from massive chasms to the many mind-bending hallways that mess with your head before rearranging their framework to form a new path forward. NaissanceE is at its strongest during the moments that bewilder and amaze without an accompaniment of confusion, moments which begin to occur more and more rapidly and on a grander scale the deeper into the world you get.
Interspersed between the wandering and sightseeing are occasional platforming and puzzle elements. Neither encroaches upon or disrupts your progression for more than a moment, but serves as a nice supplement to the experience and fleshes out the gameplay to be something more engaging and further immersion (an unusual mechanic involves you needing to time your breathing to keep sprinting for long periods of time, which while odd at I actually came to appreciate for making me feel like I was playing a person and not a camera on wheels).
While many self-described “exploration adventure games” consist of nothing but walking from point a-b, NaissanceE actually has quite a bit of “traditional” gameplay that, while basic and secondary to the overall focus on exploration and player defined narrative, makes it hard to dispute that it is indeed a “game” and not just an “experience”.
Having played NaissanceE to completion, I have no doubt of the very clear and focused vision the developer obviously had when creating this game. It’s unlike anything else I’ve played and at many times simply a wonder to behold. But along with this vision came an abundance of technical and design missteps, the most prominent and unacceptable of which is the checkpoint/save system. The only way to save are at checkpoints purposely placed at points in the game, but the problem is that these checkpoints are much too far apart from one another.
Death is an annoyingly common occurrence do to how easy it is to slip off a ledge as well as the general trial-and-error method of solving many of the puzzles, and because of this you are largely required to replay large sections of the game because of how sporadic the checkpoints are. I spent at least 1-2 hours going through the motions trying to get past a handful of troublesome sections, a tiresome affair that at times made me want to stop playing and never look at the game again.
I can’t say it strongly enough how much frustration would have been avoided had there been a way to manually save, and I can only hope that the developer reads this and the complaints on the forums and adds it in. In its current state it’s almost bad enough for me to not recommend the game at all, as those less determined than I may find themselves giving up early on and not at all unfairly. A handful of other less prevalent technical problems also cropped up (a bothersome fan being the most aggravating), but updates seem to be on the way so they hopefully won’t be a problem much longer.
NaissanceE’s other problems are mainly a fault of its inherent design of having the player figure nearly everything out for themselves, with no guide or clearly marked route through levels to guide them. Many areas are almost too big for their own good, leading to a lot of dead ends (some intentionally misleading by design) and wasted time running in circles because I didn’t see the staircase on the side of a wall or mistook a doorway for a meaningless gap. This becomes less of an issue the longer you play, as certain patterns begin to reveal themselves and you get better at spotting the fakes passages for the real ones, but early on it’s definitely a problem and one that will discourage a lot of players from continuing as they are literally left walking in the dark.
Ultimately, no matter how exasperated I got at the save system or the time spent entirely lost in the maze like structure, I kept returning to NaissanceE because regardless of these issues the world it creates is so remarkably compelling. When everything clicks it’s an experience unlike anything else, captivating and creative in ways I have rarely seen in any game. It asks a lot of the player, more so than it has a right too (namely to stick with it past the awkward first few hours and its abomination of a save system), but if you can accept those issues it becomes something that you need to see and play for yourself…after a few patches.