Particulars is a unique title and brand new poster child for well-rounded independent games. It demonstrates the capability of independent developers to create a moving story, believable, relatable characters, as well as amusing, functional gameplay with focused direction and honest creativity. I’ll have to justify my use of a lot of the words in that last sentence, but I suppose that’s what all these other words down here are for. While Particulars won’t be earning mainstream Game of the Year awards, SeeThrough Studios have done amazing work on this title, so I’m more than happy to affirm my appreciation. Go you, people!
It doesn’t take long to realise Particulars is an Australian game; the opening credits show support from government bodies Screen NSW and Screen Australia (which is pretty rad) and are met with an answering machine calling out “Hey Allie, it’s ya Dad”, in accent-ridden glory. This opening scene is filled to the brim with tiny details that give hints to who this “Allie” person is: the earphone/laptop combo, coffee-stained newspapers, bin full of crumpled papers, wilting houseplant, unkempt doormat. All the information any player could need to enjoy the plot is shared without the game plummeting down the far-too-common pitfall of lazy exposition; the absolutely paramount rule of “show, don’t tell” is adhered to brilliantly from this opening shot through to the closure-inducing closer.
I adore that no single character throughout the almost minimalist plot is clearly “the baddie”, something that has come to be expected in lesser titles: an inexplicably despicable entity, the defeat of which drives the entire plot, because that’s how ya make a narrative, right?
Instead, the plot is a troubling and sad story about grief and coping with depression, with insights from the perspectives of the protagonist’s loved ones too. While the approach to narrative is amazing, the plot points in the later-middle stages of the game feel repetitive and lacklustre, as if they don’t deliver on the promising mystery that’s established early on. Upon completion of the game and a gaze on the big picture, I can see why I struggled through those sections and reprimand myself accordingly. The plot is simple and fluid, and delivered in small bite sizes. Most importantly, it is communicated in as few words as necessary with a clear direction, making sure to not waste anyone’s time with superfluous waffle.
Much of the game is spent inside a dark, dank storage unit (presumably on the bad side of town), where we find Allie, a misunderstood young woman swamped by grief taking comfort in her greatest strength and passion: science. Specifically a personal project of hers: a pseudo-educational simulated subatomic universe encapsulated within the confines of an arcade machine, in which we mess around with particle physics. I say “pseudo-educational” because while Particulars has opened my eyes to the insane world that exists within atoms, I still have an absolutely inept understanding of the concepts exhibited through Particulars. I suspect players are meant to consciously try to connect particular blobs with other particular blobs to progress, but I often found that button mashing and dodging the ensuing chaos works just as well. I am disappointed (with myself) that the reasonably paced explanation process felt so difficult to employ in gameplay, but relieved that this didn’t shackle my enjoyment one bit. Hooray!
Preceding each level is a short quote from Allison’s life that helps shed some information either on the story or, in some cases, on the topic of subatomic whatsyamacallits. Most of these are heavy hitters such as Dad, best-friend Gabi, and family friend-turned boss Dr. Philippa Grey, with the occasional piece of literature or situational character. Anyway, that’s probably enough on the narrative presentation without giving too much away. Let’s move on.
SeeThrough Studios have managed to steer clear of typical arcade game blunders that utterly ruin the experience: arbitrary point systems, forced competition, and obnoxious “Level Complete!!!” signs, all of which drive me actually crazy. Shit-smearing crazy. So thank you. As a puzzle game, Particulars still suffers from the inevitable dilemma of presenting laughably easy or insufferably difficult final stages, falling squarely into the latter camp. The goals of each level are simple and communicated well, but as mentioned earlier, I found it difficult to understand entirely the steps to achieve these goals. “Deliver an Anti-Top Quark” – Right, I’ll move these things over by that an- Oh, that worked? Okay, cool beans.
Available to help quell this issue is constant access to an informational panel detailing relationships between particles, but it’s not quite enough to wrap a dull head like mine around it all. The game lasts a nice, rewarding six hours, possibly more for the more clue-y kind, though with the omission of the unnecessary, forced-replayability factors as mentioned above, I cannot see much of a replayability factor for Particulars. Fair trade.
The choppy music and art design for cutscenes at the end of each chapter (of which there are a hearty 10) have a generally nice appeal but are lost in the exasperated relief of finally completing that puzzle, or struggling to follow exactly. The protagonist is difficult to understand (as stated by ex-boyfriend Graham), both for in-game characters, and those controlling the game.
Playing with subatomic particles is an interesting and fresh approach to gameplay for what otherwise may be a silly arcade idea, and the honest and creative delivery of narrative in this title strings together the premise in a convincing and respectable manner. That’s a good term for Particulars: respectable. A respectable arcade game that doesn’t feel like it’s skimping out on any individual element, while utilizing level designs and the player’s time as effectively as possible. Even if it is a bit too complex for my poor mind.
Select Start Media was provided with a copy of Particulars by SeeThrough Studios.
Disclosure: A developer on Particulars went to high school with our writer Jess Zammit.