It’s not often that I play a walking simulator that really grabs me. With a lot of them, they usually have some good visuals, but no real story to back it up. That or the story is so obtuse that it’s just not worth the effort. Well, this game is a bit different, even if it does come with a few problems.
Interesting story and excellent storytelling. The Shattering is a game that opens with a disclaimer telling players that it contains sensitive topics related to mental and emotional wellness and that it is not intended to serve as professional advice or guidance. These are topics often covered in the genre (I played one some months ago called Fractured Minds that did just this), but The Shattering approaches it from a rather unique angle.
You play as a man in therapy and the gameplay is divided into different acts where you travel through your own mind and uncover what lead up to this therapy session. One act, for example, takes the protagonist back to his childhood, one full of bullying, anxiety, and isolation. The game goes hard at this too, enough so that I really felt for the protagonist during this act — there is a reason for that disclaimer after all. It can be brutal at times, but it manages to handle it in a thoughtful manner while also maintaining a strong sense of immersion. It really drives the story and, combined with how the game actually tells said story, makes for a very cool experience, one of the better ones I’ve seen from a walking sim as of late.
Very cool dynamic environments. What really sells the experience though are the game’s environments. Because the majority of the game takes place inside of the mind, you’ll find yourself traveling through constantly shifting, yet incredibly well-done environments. As the protagonist remembers stuff from his past, it will then show up in the game world, oftentimes in very creative ways. For example, the act where you play through his childhood has you start in a bedroom with just a bed and nightstand. As you interact with these limited objects, more start appearing in the room, usually when you’re not looking. It does this without any sort of loading screen too, it just kinda pops into existence.
Interacting with that leads to another appearing and so on, until you’ve discovered so much that the image of this perfect childhood room shatters and you find out the true reality of our protagonist. The game really likes to use its environments in this way to subvert expectations and it’s cool how it manages to link story elements together at the same time. It not only makes the story that much more interesting, but goes to show how powerful art direction and level design can be within the genre.
Hidden collectibles and achievements. Usually, within the walking simulator genre, the objective is to just walk and uncover the story along the way. There’s little in the way of exploration, puzzle-solving, or really any form of secondary objective. That’s why I quite enjoyed the change of pace offered up by The Shattering. Of course, the main objective remains the same, but the game has a number of little collectibles and other achievements that you can earn along the way just by doing a little bit of exploration.
Granted, some of these secondary objectives serve no purpose outside of just being that, but some of them do offer up little bits of information that actually end up adding to the main story. Regardless, it is a great way to encourage exploration in a genre that usually has none.
Some immersion-breaking objectives. As The Shattering is a walking simulator, the gameplay is limited to walking and interacting with stuff in the environment. In order to progress, you’re tasked with finding some object (or objects) before the next story event triggers. This can be anything from a series of kid’s toys to something as small as a toothbrush. My problem lies in the fact that the act of finding said object can oftentimes interrupt the flow of the game.
You’ll be cruising along this well-paced story, interacting with stuff along the way, only to then be held up by some random cigarette that needs to be found before you can move on. The problem being that this cigarette may be hidden in a drawer somewhere, underneath some other object, or really just in some out-of-reach area, forcing you to then spam click on everything that can be interacted with just to see if it may be hiding there. This kind of gameplay may be fine for other games, but for the kind of story that The Shattering goes for, it really interrupts the flow more than anything, taking a bit of immersion out of the experience.
Various technical issues. Although I did not run into any major bugs or glitches, I did run into a number of smaller, more technical issues. The most prominent of these would be with regards to the game’s performance. For most of the game, I would be running it at a solid 100+ fps, but there were some isolated incidents were my fps would tank to somewhere around 40-50 or so, oftentimes in areas that really don’t look like they should be tanking fps. For example, the hotel lobby at the very beginning of the game ran fine, but as soon as I entered my hotel room, well then the fps started fluctuating. I tested lower settings to see if it was maybe an issue there, but the problem remained regardless.
Then there’s the issue of the game’s mouse sensitivity. By default, it is hyper sensitive, enough to have my camera spinning in circles with just a touch of the mouse. I ended up putting it all the way down, but the game was still really sensitive, both when moving around and when inspecting objects. It was at least playable at that point, but I could see many having to manually turn down their mouse dpi if they have it set to a higher value. I should also note that the game has this nasty mouse smoothing enabled by default, a feature I immediately turned off and question why it was enabled in the first place.
For fans of walking simulators, The Shattering is definitely worth a look. The story is interesting, told in a way that subverts expectations, and is coupled with some outstanding art direction and level design. It’s a solid experience all the way through, even if it does have a few immersion-breaking hiccups and technical faults. It honestly reminds me of Layers of Fear 2, but with a much more interesting story and no jump scares.
You can buy The Shattering on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.