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September 09, 2018 2 min read
I'm not exactly sure how much laughing is appropriate during the demo for The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories. The title, due out for PC and all major consoles this year, is the latest project from avant-garde game designer Hidetaka Suehiro, better known as Swery. On the third day of PAX, I'm in the same room with him, asking him questions about The Missing and doing my best to contain my laughter.
Not because it's bad. In fact, it's quite an interesting puzzle platformer. I'm laughing because across the two levels I test, I see some of the most barbaric actions hoisted upon a video game character that it constantly crosses over from ghastly to gut-busting. This is one uproarious game, and yet a major part of me feels I should not be laughing.
The Missing tells the story of the titular J.J. Macfield who is searching for her friend Emily. The two are camping on an island when Emily goes missing. J.J. sets out to find her, but she's not your average girl. J.J. can't die. Well, okay, she can die if she gets hit enough but the point of the game is J.J. can take an immense beating and keep going no matter how little of her is left. Every time she takes damage, she loses a limb. It starts with an arm and then a leg. Then all of her appendages are gone and she's just a torso with a head. Take one more hit and she's just the head.
I can regenerate her body at any time with the press of a button, but this ghoulish play mechanic factors into the puzzle solving elements of the game. J.J. will use her limbs to set off switches or knock down objects. The smaller her controllable body becomes, the tinier spaces I can fit her into. Her body is a tool for progression as long as I can stomach the detestable punishment I put her through. At first, it's shocking to see this young woman fall to pieces as I throw her into barbed wire. But through repetition, the black humor shines through and I find myself struggling to control my laughter at the absurdity of it all.
I feel bad for her in the moments I'm not guffawing at her misery. I can't help but think White Owls is creating nothing short of a torture simulator. Swery says he understands that's how people might process it in the beginning, but as players really get to know J.J. and her predicament, he hopes they start to see the game as he does.
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