Review: Glare – A Tenebrous Indie Platformer from Phobic Studios

Review: Glare – A Tenebrous Indie Platformer from Phobic Studios
2.5

Platforms:

Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Steam

Game Name:

Glare

Developer(s):

Phobic Studios

Genre(s):

Platformer, Action

Release Date:

October 10th, 2013

Glare: What We Think

My patience ran out midway through the fourth level of Glare. I was guiding a shadowy character across an ice world composed of dark blue vines, a dark purple backdrop, dark blue-grey rocks, and dark black tumbleweeds while doing battle with spherical dark purple enemies amidst dark purple clouds of gas.

Do you see how this could be a problem?

Glare game screenshot - darkness everywhere
Darkness…check.

In many respects a competent video game, Glare is an exercise in restraint that leaves you wondering why the developers didn’t use any. The latest from Phobic Studios is dull, uninspiring, and severely over-designed, making for a needlessly jumbled platforming experience.

Gets a Shiner Early On

At a glance, Glare exists because the developers wanted to draw some 3D planets in Unity. It’s evident that much of the team’s development time was devoted to the artwork, making the visuals the game’s most obvious marketing bullet. It’s therefore ironic that the artwork is easily the game’s most glaring flaw (sorry for the pun).

In the broad strokes, Glare is about The Shiner, a being of anthropomorphized light with a vague resemblance to Ratchet. The Shiner uses his internal organs like a flashlight to dispel shadow creatures that threaten to overrun the universe.

Yet despite being comprised entirely of white light, the Shiner is encased in an off-black suit of armor, making him utterly indistinguishable from the dark countryside around him. The developers consistently sacrifice visual clarity for effect, which is problematic when it stands as a direct impediment to gameplay.

Cleanse the Palette

The issues are most evident whenever the artwork doesn’t match the world programmed beneath it. Platforms always seem to be a bit shorter than advertised, so you have to jump a full second before you think you do while playing. Walls – normally used for wall jumping – litter the play area even though only about half of them are actually interactive.

The monotone color palette is a similar travesty. Many of the later stages expect speed, and it’s tough to process fine details once the colors rush together. I died – and then died again – because my avatar was one with the scenery, to the point that I could no longer tell where he was relative to all of the things that would kill him. Everything becomes a blur, a mass of dark objects swirling together into undiscovered shades of camouflage.

Glare game screenshot - background vs foreground
Where is Shiner?

The developers otherwise make no effort to differentiate important gameplay features (like triggered platforms) from the non-essential filler around them. The screen is always a mess. Crucial (and lethal) textures like spikes and thorns grow out of crevices that are impossible to reach, giving equal weight to barriers that are real and those that are backgrounds just pretending.

Glare-ing Oversight

What’s worse is that all the extra stuff doesn’t serve any purpose. It’s all ‘just because,’ in the sense that it’s in the game just because no one stopped to ask whether the things being drawn added anything meaningful. Landscapes crawl across the screen like rocky kudzu, intruding into the foreground and demanding notice while simultaneously obscuring monsters about to attack. Most of the artwork doesn’t serve any function, and the game becomes dysfunctional as a result.

Glare game screenshot - shooting enemies
Shine a light…

If the self-indulgent artwork generates scorn, then the mundane gameplay inspires only apathy. Glare is part platformer and part directional shooter, allowing you to fend off enemies with targeted beams of light. It’s a moderately novel mechanic, but it gets largely squandered in favor of running and jumping.

What’s left is a collection of obstacles that exist without context. In that regard, Glare could be worse. Evaluated strictly as a platformer, everything works more or less the way it’s supposed to. It’s difficult but not unreasonable, with challenges that scale proportionally and incorporate new design abilities throughout.

No Direction

However, the design falls well short of the best the genre has to offer. Glare has a nasty habit of utilizing blind jumps and trust falls at the end of difficult sections, a trait that gets exacerbated thanks to the muddy visuals. You may die several times before you spot whatever it is you’re supposed to jump to next, leading to a lot of pointless repetition that occurs because the game doesn’t want to tell you which way is forward.

When Glare does get tough (as opposed to confusing), it’s usually because the design is unfair rather than challenging; enemies spawn and swarm in unexpected patterns intended to overwhelm, demanding memorization more than combat skill. Improvisation is impossible because the game doesn’t give you enough time to respond to new threats, which gets especially aggravating during boss fights when mini-monsters randomly pop into existence right on top of your location.

Strip away the bad design decisions, and there’s nothing noteworthy to say about Glare. The cursory story is relegated to a few text screens following the title sequence. The Shiner, the level design, and the overall aesthetic are devoid of personality. The depopulated game world doesn’t seem to be in dire need of saving.

Cast out Darkness

Glare is ultimately incapable of holding your attention beyond the immediate present. Without foreshadowing, there’s no reason to go on, either. Glare devolves into graphical and interactive incoherence long before it has a chance to explore anything meaningful. I couldn’t give you a single compelling reason to play it, even as a curiosity, so you’re not missing much if you give this one a pass.

Get Glare at the Official Site

Get Glare on Steam

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Eric Weiss

Eric is a Toronto based video game critic and theatre practitioner. He is currently a regular contributor at Dork Shelf, while past creative writing credits include the stage plays The Handy Man Can (2008 Montreal Fringe Festival) and Shredder (2009 McGill Drama Festival) and the video game Apocalypse Later (TOJam 2012). Follow him on Twitter @Harry_Houdini.

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