Fire Face Corporation (studio)
08 November 2016 (released)
01 December 2016
As film making many years ago embarked on the Art House road, so did games not so long ago. Back in the late 2000’s games like Braid, Limbo and Journey deliver heart felt narratives and inspiring gameplay that interlinked with the story. Now days we get many developers tackling deeper subject matters with surreal, obscure and just plain bizarre aesthetics.
Small Radios, Big Televisions is an indie developed title where players control a nameless and faceless being that oversees and traverses across different locations. These locations resemble abandoned settlements, factories and laboratories which hold many secrets and overall a great mystery. As the being, you must explore these different complexes in order to discover cassette tapes (for younger readers, a 80’s version of MP3 file) to progress further.
The concept is peculiar yet very captivating. Once players acquire these cassette tapes; they can view certain memories from wondering through a forest to riding a train in a continuous loop where melodic tones bless your ears. During these segments you must locate and take small green orbs that unlock certain doors in the complex, allowing you to explore further. This makes up 80% of the game as you explore, find tapes and retrace memories to find keys and progress until you've explored the whole complex.
Other puzzle elements include using a magnetising device to alter the tapes and thus alter the memories to become even more surreal and distorted. But these alterations help to mold and shape the landscapes into something new and find more green orbs as a result. This generally makes up the puzzle aspect of the game with some smaller valve puzzles in one particular level of the game. This idea of watching tapes and altering them is fascinating yet at the same time it’s under played in execution. You can't do anything else other than rotate the camera and discover the key or just to use another magnetising device to alter the tape and find another key.
It would have been nice to have different types of puzzles in the tapes, like finding door codes or just altering the memories themselves to change something the world outside the tapes. The nature of diving into the tapes or altering them is repetitive after the first few stages and it’s a shame as the memories themselves are visually stunning and interesting in many respects.
But the sense of exploration, discovering new paths and finding secrets did keep me invested after my first run of the game. I was drawn back by learning how I missed certain items along the way and the need to go and find them was compelling. I wouldn’t say the narrative really drew me as much as the gameplay, seeing as its very obscure and minimal in execution. It felt more like a gathering of philosophical thoughts on life with hints of the Dooms day scenario aftermath that never gets resolved. But instead you see an eye melting acid trip of an ending that resembles homage to 2001: A space Odyssey. It's more of an emotional experience compared to other indie titles such as Inside.
Overall, expect about 3 - 4 hours on total to complete with some gripping replay value once you finished the game (if you've not found everything first time). Small Radios, Big Televisions does well to engage us with a cool concept that sadly not executed well enough to make it shine through so many others like it. It’s a mesmerising and beautiful game that will keep keen puzzle geeks happy. The journey is fascinating and the exploration of these deserted complexes is very engaging. The aspect of diving into memories through tapes is again interesting but underplayed and a missed chance for something truly dynamic.
I hope that a sequel or spiritual sequel comes from this and we get to see an expansion on mechanics and gameplay.
A PS4 copy of Small Radios Big Televisions was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review