boss▲battle Review - Thirty Flights of Loving (PC)
Game narratives are usually ham-fisted affairs, relegated to little more than “press A to continue” dialogue boxes that advance the pointy-haired hero’s quest, or never-ending cutscenes that let you watch as your character does all the cool stuff you wish you were playing. Even Half-Life, a series lauded for its excellent storytelling, needed mountains of expository dialogue from NPCs to shuffle the player along to the next firefight.
The latest title from Blendo Games (Pandemic Studios staffer Brendon Chung, known for Atom Zombie Smasher and Flotilla), Thirty Flights of Loving manages to squeeze the emotional wallop of a two-hour Hollywood heist movie in a fraction of the time.
The tale of top spies preparing for their next big job, things quickly turn sour and it’s up to the player to figure out where it all went wrong. A few simple design choices leave the player reeling to put the fragmented plot back together, as Chung carefully structured his ‘60s spy yarn with jump-cuts and flashbacks keep things engaging. Just under 15 minutes and $5, Loving is the gaming equivalent to an expertly told short story, though the price is likely to rankle gamers who prefer a lengthier experience.
Ultimately, it’s a case of quality over quantity. Chung trimmed every bit of fat possible and left only the most vital moments to drive home the narrative, eschewing typical gaming mechanics like game-overs, a HUD or weapons. The whole package is wrapped in a style reminiscent of the cover of an Ian Fleming novel gone papercraft, complete with one of the slickest title screens in recent memory. Also, the extremely literal take on the “Games as Art” debate during the game’s credits gave me a chuckle.
Bundled with Thirty Flights of Loving is its predecessor, Gravity Bone, which takes a more “videogamey” approach to the cloak-and-dagger vibe hinted at in Loving. Released in 2009, play it first to get a feel for the series’ spy-vs-spy world and to appreciate the features cut for the sake of storytelling.