Imagine trying to describe the colour red to a man born without sight. How would you go about doing it? You might describe themes commonly associated with the colour, like boiling anger or fiery passion. You could tell them about things that are red, like blood or a fire engine. It doesn’t matter what you say. No matter how hard you try, they’ll never be able to truly understand it. There’s simply no way to sum up a colour with mere words alone. To understand the colour red, you have to see it with your own eyes.

In the same way, it’s impossible to describe something as complex as anxiety. Serious issues like these are often misunderstood by the average person, being brushed off with phrases like “cheer up,” and “just get over it and move on.” In all honesty, it’s difficult to blame people who use these lines, because when it comes to these issues, they are blind. If you’ve never experienced these emotions, how can you be expected to understand them? It’s impossible to provide a perfect description of these emotions and so it’s not the fault of the person who fails to grasp the complexities of the issue.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 13.17.55

I realise I’ve started this game review on somewhat of a tangent, but in all honesty, when talking about this game, it’s difficult not to. The fact is that I’ve Been Late is a game that’s really hard to review. It takes only 3-4 minutes to play, but it’s so personal and introspective that it’s difficult to critique in any way. Standard criticism would be pointless.  The developer made this game for someone he knows, who presumably either struggles with this issue himself, or knows someone who does. Criticising it would be like spending 10 seconds listening to a married couple having a chat and then trying to act as their marriage councillor.

I can’t say whether I “liked” it, simply because it’s not an experience that people are supposed to “like”. Its purpose is to try to provide a tangible interpretation of the complex issue of anxiety, and this is a task that I think it largely succeeds in doing – provided you don’t experience a slight game breaking bug in the middle.

There’s not really an objective to the game. There’s no fail state, and your only job is to walk to various locations, and examine the world around you. Other people are represented by ghostly figures with sad faces. You can’t interact with them at all. It’s broken up into a series of short episodes. Obviously describing all of these episodes in detail would spoil the game, so I’ll only be describing the first situation here.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 15.35.54

It opens on a moonlit beach. Further down the beach, you can see a fire with a small group of people stood around it. If you try to join the group, you’ll find that you can’t. An invisible wall is blocking your path, stopping you from getting anywhere near them. Instead, a staircase appears, leading out over the ocean, and up to the moon. You walk up the staircase, but before you can reach the moon, everything fades to black, and you’re taken to the next segment of the game.

It’s simple but powerful. There are probably multiple interpretations of this scene but for me, the invisible wall represents anxiety. No matter how close you try to get to other people, you can’t bring yourself to join them. Instead, you shut yourself off to others and choose the path of social isolation; an uphill climb that you hope will somehow lead to acceptance. To someone with crippling anxiety, socialising may feel like an impossible dream. As crazy as walking to the moon.

It might seem like I am reading too much into fleeting moments of gameplay, but given the game’s goal of getting the player to think about anxiety, that’s no bad thing. The fact that it manages to get me thinking so deeply about its message shows how effective this game is.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 13.17.06

Of course, with its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it length, it’d be easy to play this game once and then simply forget about it. It takes multiple playthroughs to grasp the game’s intricacies, and then time needs to be taken to mull it over in your head.

Besides the execution of its powerful message, I’ve Been Late’s other main strength is the striking visual style. It goes for a heavily pixelated look, using bold block colours and relatively few unnecessary details. This look actually helps with the message. It’s a world awash with blue, a colour often associated with sadness and depression. I find the game beautiful to look at in a very understated way.

Although the game bills itself as a “short linear first person musical game,” the term musical is being used in the loosest sense of the word here. There are no show tunes, jazz hands or dance breakdowns to be seen. Instead, it features a fairly ambient soundtrack, composed almost entirely with guitar and bass. Each segment of the game has its own track that plays as a loop throughout, and it works very well, with it’s sheer simplicity providing a good backdrop for the track.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 13.20.17

Unfortunately, I did experience one issue that slightly marred the whole game for me. Midway through my first playthrough, the game was rendered unplayable when I began falling through the map every time I tried to exit the room. At first I thought this was part of the game – I thought the message was “no matter how hard you try, you won’t succeed.” However, once I’d fallen through the map about 10 times I realised the game was simply bugged, and I was forced to reload the game. Given the game’s short length, it wasn’t a major issue, but it did slightly spoil the esoteric wonder of the experience.

I’ve Been Late is a short, but wonderful game, and it’s one I would encourage anybody to play if they want to think about and better understand anxiety. It’s free to download from Itch.io, and it takes only 3-4 minutes to play. It’s a game that we can all fit into our busy schedules. For a few minutes, disconnect from the Internet, turn off the TV and all other distractions, and just give the game a shot. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but for some people, it’ll be well worth it.

 

About The Author

Contributor

As a composer and video game enthusiast, Philip has spent years searching for a way to combine his passions for both music and gaming. Then, one day, he figured he could just write about them. He loves to over-analyse the way music helps to shape the player's emotional response in a game. He also loves to criticise bad control schemes, because... Well, they just get on his nerves.

Related Posts