The game’s setting, right off the bat, is its strongest asset. Taking place in an alternative dystopian 1950’s, Monochroma lends itself to some utterly stunning environments; from quaint, quiet farmlands all the way to titanic, robotic industrial zeppelins. The backdrops, scenery, and overall art design for the world deserves a high level of praise. While Limbo’s setting was wonderfully minimalistic in its approach, Monochroma goes at it full force to bring some utterly jaw-dropping, in-your-face bleakness that I have seldom come across in gaming.
However, the plot which ties the whole thing together is tragically lacking. You play as… a kid, with no name. You have a brother named… brother, I suppose? Regardless, you were both playing with a kite once dark and rainy day when he falls through a roof and drops around 10 feet and injures his leg… somehow? Now it is your loving, brotherly duty to carry him… somewhere? All the while not leaving him alone in the dark… because? Honestly none of this is explained at any point throughout the game. I’m aware that lack of text or dialogue is a good selling point of games of this genre, but there is a startling lack of context for a lot of goings on in Monochroma.
When it comes to puzzle-solving though Monochroma gets another big thumbs up. While some puzzles can end up being a little trial-and-error, a vast majority are well thought out brain teasers. Your brother is a surprisingly large factor in a good number of puzzles, as he can only be placed down in the light but you can jump higher without him. At first it all takes some getting used to, but once you wrap your head around the idea it offers an extra layer rarely exploited in platformers. Numerous times I found myself stuck on a particular area, but never so much that I wanted to rage quit and call it a night – which to me is a terrific balance.
Once again, however, I must counteract that positive with a negative, because the musical score of Monochroma did not sit well with me at all. At the beginning, the very first level, I thought it was excellent and set the mood perfectly. Unfortunately, as the game progressed for a vast majority of the areas there was no musical score at all. Then, on later levels, music would randomly kick-in and repeat throughout on a very easily noticeable loop. It’s a shame because the actual score of the game is great, but it is utilised very poorly. Perhaps it was their intention for a vast majority of the game to be completely silent, but it didn’t help to absorb me into the world. It merely made me feel more disenchanted.
During the final stages of the game the tone of the world gets really dark. I’m not talking in a literal “there are no lights” sense, I mean that some of the things you will see are depressing and morbid as hell. I did a literal double-take at a dead child, who had suicided himself with a noose in a prison cell – that’s the line we’re talking here. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, not at all, I’m in fact a little impressed at how far the developers were able to take the tone without ever really feeling as if they were pushing for deliberate shock value. Sure, I was shocked by the prison cell, but contextually it fitted in the world of Monochroma.
BUT, and it is a big but, I found the ending to be bloody awful. The final level was fine, the boss battle was fine, but the way the story ended really rubbed me up the wrong way. It felt so non-committal, and shockingly open-ended, almost as if the game was hoping for a sequel. Having already not been very story-rich to begin with, to have such a lacklustre character-focussed ending was a huge mistake. I don’t wish to spoil it here, but it didn’t feel at all satisfying, and was a rather disappointing end to the 5-6 hour experience.
Overall, I think it’s fair to describe Monochroma as a mixed bag. The art design, puzzles, and tone are fantastic, but the plot, sound design, and ending let it down tremendously. If you enjoy bleak 2D platformers then there is definitely enough here to warrant checking it out, but do not expect the level of quality which Limbo delivered.