As a somewhat mediocre games reviewer, the time-consuming part of the job is actually playing the games. Yeah, the review will usually take a couple of hours or so, but it’s generally getting the games completed that takes up most of my time. Not here. This review will still take an hour or so, but I played the entirety of Thirty Flights of Loving, as well as the included developer’s commentary and prequel, Gravity Bone, in just under an half an hour. This will, for obvious reasons, become primary talking point of gamers – I’ve seen a lot of moaning online from people who paid $4.99 for this on release and couldn’t quite believe it when theheist end-game only took fifteen minutes to reach, with a minimal amount of player interaction.
Thirty Flights of Loving is an “interactive story”. Well, short story. It opens with the player character walking down a staircase into an alcohol-free bar, occupied by a solitary, lonely looking old man and the barkeep. Finding a secret doorway, you progress down a secret staircase into a secret lair full of secret plans. Plans for a heist. In this secret lair are two super-secret people, Anita and Winston. This is all communicated to the player with a complete lack of any sort of dialogue or spoken interaction between the characters – at least, any dialogue that is intelligible by the player, as there are small, infrequent instances of gibberish used as a stand-in for a real language. Instead, everything is put forth to the player via a series of clever hard cuts, with the setting change back and forth between a number of different periods in the plot’s timeline.
Despite being a very short game, there’s really a lot to take in. In fact the brevity of the game might be a major contributor towards the overwhelming nature of the story. Being thrown about between the past, present, and future without any explanation or warning makes it hard enough as it is, but taking into account the lack of dialogue or distinctly presented plot, it’s easy to get lost. All you have to do for the majority of the game is walk forward or wait around, and yet your head will be so furiously attempting to join together the pieces of the plot you’ve been presented with that, by the end, you’ll have gone through a whirlwind of emotions without even realising it. Betrayal, murder, romance, high-speed car chases – all the elements that make up a good heist story are here, albeit so condensed that it’s a real struggle to understand exactly what’s going on. And there’s a real beauty in that, as every person I’ve talked to about Thirty Flights of Loving has had their own theory as to what, exactly, happened to the three of you that night. Honestly, there’s such a deep plot woven into this game that I’m truly amazed that it’s been crammed into such a small window of time and yet maintains the mixture elegance, charm and mystery that makes it so unique.
Just let me get this straight, though – there really isn’t much player interaction here, at all. Seriously, at all. While you are given as much time as you like to explore your surroundings in every environment, and can pick up nearly every item available, all you’ll be doing is pressing the action key every now and then, and walking. Maybe that’s not fair – you can interact with things, but nearly 100% of that interaction is unnecessary, purely to further the player’s experience of the story. For example, when you first walk into the secret lair is your only opportunity to discover the respective roles of your two companions, and from the information infer that you’re the third conspirator in an intricate heist plot – on the other hand, if you were to simply blow through the scene without allowing yourself time to fully absorb your surroundings, you’ll miss out on a huge amount of content.
The soundtrack is an absolute work of art, most noticeably during the credits sequence. On that topic – if you take your time, the credits could actually take longer than the game itself, due largely to a charming little example of Bernoulli’s Principle (the reason planes fly). But back to the soundtrack – every note and lack thereof has been crafted with such meticulous precision that the entire game would feel hollow without it. This isn’t meant to seem like a negative aspect of the rest of the game, rather an example of a games journalist who’s simply run out of superlatives for the soundtrack. To add the icing to the cake, Thirty Flights of Loving is bundled with its predecessor Gravity Bone – despite being a free game anyway, it’s nice to have it in the same place, especially as I hadn’t played it initially and so gave it a go before jumping into the sequel. Developer commentary is included via interactive floating question marks, à la Valve games, yet is provided in the form of fairly awfully formatted text boxes rather than the sleek spoken word of Valve’s method. Let me clear that up – I just compared a one-man indie team to arguably (yes, I’d argue it) the greatest PC developer of all time. Surely that’s compliment enough.
But even after all this praise, when push comes to shove Thirty Flights of Loving is still only fifteen minutes worth of video game and, unlike its predecessor, is being sold for real life money. In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether or not fifteen minutes is worth $5. I, for one, highly recommend Thirty Flights of Loving, but I totally understand if you’re a little hesitant to spend $5 on fifteen minutes – arthouse games might not be everyone’s cup of tea, fair enough. That sense of satisfaction you get on completion of a game is, of course, totally missing here. The graphical style might not be to everyone’s taste. If you don’t linger around enough, you’ll miss out on a huge amount of the game. But man, that story. That soundtrack.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Thirty Flights of Loving by Blendo Games.