Some games, no matter how much work the devs put into them, just never come together. While some elements could be great, the overall experience just doesn’t click in any meaningful way. Illusion: A Tale of the Mind, from Canadian dev Frima, is a title that suffers from this. While its virtual reality title Fated: The Silent Oath is one of the best narrative experiences currently available on PlayStation VR, Illusion does not earn such praise.
Illusion: A Tale of the Mind is a fixed-camera puzzle game that focuses very heavily on visual puzzles, and light platforming segments. You play as Emma, a girl who wakes up in a bizarre twisted landscape, who calls upon the aid of Topsy, a stuffed rabbit, whose origins you aren’t quite sure of. The two journey through the mind of a man named Euclide, trying to figure out what’s going on in this clearly distressed man’s mind. Right off the bat, the game shows off its strongest asset; its art direction. This title has a phenomenal art style, with delightfully twisted environments fused with dark carnival attractions, Escher-esque war environments, and a fantastic marriage of wondrous whimsy and unsettling dread. These environments are interesting, disturbing, and oftentimes impressively vibrant.
Unfortunately, the art direction is the first and last positive thing about the game. While the visual puzzles are fun and engaging at first -- most often they require you to manipulate objects to cast a specific shadow on an environment -- they quickly outstay their welcome. After the first three or so puzzles, it becomes clear that the game’s idea of a difficulty curve is to just add more mind-numbing steps before completion rather than necessarily making the puzzles themselves more clever or engaging. It turns into busy work, or a distraction to offset the other weak elements of the title. Beyond these puzzles, there are some colour coded door switching puzzles, which is the closest the game comes to being mechanically engaging. There is some genuine fun to be had doing these, especially since they break up the monotony of the back half of the game.
The latter half is bogged down by an irritating number of gauntlet sequences and platforming sections that require strict timing, but don’t provide precise enough controls to allow for doing things quickly. The back half of the game is a total mess, until it finally, mercifully, ends. The “final boss” for this title sees you running in a zigzag line for about five minutes while a giant eyeball covered in goo exposits at you. This leads to Illusion’s biggest problem, and no, it’s not the gameplay.
The voice work in this title is a massive problem. This has less to do with the performances, which range from slightly grating to adequate, and more to do with the fact that it's utterly and entirely unnecessary. We mentioned how strong the art direction in the title is; it’s strong enough and concise enough that the title could've conveyed this entire story without speech. Oftentimes it does just that, but immediately after it does this, the game comes to a grinding halt, so one of the characters can talk about what just happened even though it’s super obvious. This happens constantly, to such an extent where we were able to put the controller down and do things around the office while waiting for the characters to finish telling us things that we already knew before getting to play again.
This issue was further compounded by some of the platforming and gauntlet sequences. The checkpoints were horribly implemented during a few trial and error segments, so we would have to sit through several minutes of dialogue that we just heard. And we say had to sit through because it turns out skipping through dialogue is not possible, with the exception of a select few cutscenes. This makes the game feel even longer than it is, and when it does finally end, after about five hours, it feels much longer than it actually is. Add to that the fact the title costs a whopping $20, and it’s definitely one worth skipping.
Late in the game, one of the characters has a line where he says “I am a miserable, unfortunate man.” We can’t think of a more perfect way to describe playing this title. From a team capable of making a game as exceptional as Fated: The Silent Oath, the quality of work, or lack thereof, on display here stings.