Independent gaming, over the last couple of years, has been a genuinely wonderful thing, allowing for underground creators to tell stories using methods that deviate greatly from the mainstream; it’s been this willingness to change the rules and experiment that has yielded titles such as Dear Esther, Depression Quest, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Because indie games are cheaper and easier to distribute, developers of these games have less to lose, meaning they can afford to take chances a lot more often than publishing titans such as EA or Ubisoft. Yet, in your haste to reinvent the wheel, there’s a little phrase you need to keep in mind: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Here’s where Retention comes in.
Coming to us from avant-garde developer Sometimes You, Retention put us in the role of an unnamed character who has just suffered a serious bicycle crash, and in the midst of their dying moments, we must piece together their final memories to dictate how their life has went up to this point. An intriguing premise for sure, but one that needs the right vehicle. Perhaps we’ll go after our memories in a platforming-style game, similar to Psychonauts? Maybe it’ll be an extremely symbolic RPG where we get to have epic battles with the demons of our past? It might even be a visual-novel style affair where we’ll make narrative choices and solve puzzles. The possibilities are boundless.
If you said any of those, you’re completely wrong. Retention is a scrapbook simulator. Sorry, what? No, really – Retention asks you to look through a scrapbook of pictures, and “form a story” out of them, dictating how our main character got to where they are. To explain further, the game is laid out on a timeline with 80 “points”: point 80 is the end where the character’s fallen off their bike, point 1 is birth. On each point, you get a choice of three pictures, and whatever picture you choose determines what ending you get and what “path” our main character has taken in life. This is the entire game that Sometimes You are charging for real, actual money on the Steam storefront, masquerading as an artistic effort. I don’t want to patronise anybody: this game is appalling and will merit an extremely low score, but for the next 500 words, I want you to know exactly how painful this experience was.
Gameplay is hideously non-existent. Clicking on pictures is not gameplay. Deciding how two or more pictures connect together within a narrative is not gameplay. The modern gamer doesn’t need two explosions every second to maintain an erection, but this is just cretinous, to pretend that this is a game. There is more “game” within Microsoft Excel than there is in Retention. You only do one thing in this game, and that one mechanic isn’t fun, it’s a chore; it’s selecting the prettiest picture and then doing it 79 more times. Organising Auntie Shirena’s photo album has more value as an activity than this game. As such, it’s absolutely useless and irredeemable both as a game and a piece of software.
More to the point, however, this is not art; it’s chancery by a developer putting the bare minimum of effort in, looking to mystify gullible and pretentious critics with digital smoke and mirrors – compare the critical reception of this game on Steam to the customer reviews. There’s nothing quite as disgusting as reviewers trying to get a bit of fame by fellating developers, but it should be extremely telling to consumers that the normal, average Joe Sixaxis has already unanimously despised this game. If you want to understand why this is a true conjob cashgrab, look at the low-quality sans-serif fonts and unsubstantial pictures used that make up this absolute graphical jambalaya. Art is made with a high level of love and care, but anyone with a brain can see the only thing Sometimes You love is money.
You might be thinking that the criticism for this game is misplaced and that while it’s not a game, it’s more of a literary experiment that wouldn’t fit anywhere else but Steam. I would consider and accept this as a defence for Retention, but there’s just one problem – it doesn’t have any value as a story, either, mainly because it fails to pique the interest of players in any measurable way. Normally in games, the story provides an impetus to keep playing, but Retention is so dull and hateful that you’ll never experience any engagement or joy with it. Why? Think of create your own adventure books – they’re a long-established tradition in literature. Yet a game where the developer asks you to make up the story yourself is alarmingly like those self-help books such as The Secret and Wish It, Want It, Do It, where the book’s author asks you to fill in the pages yourself. Simply, Retention and Sometimes You are lazy, contemptible, and self-indulgent, and they warrant absolutely zero of your time.
Yet, the absolute nadir doesn’t come with the starkly minimalist style of storytelling or its conman-esque game presentation; it’s the fact that Retention, a title no more demanding than opening Windows Explorer, causes lag and slowdown. How on earth is that possible? All you do is look at pictures – there’s no fancy animation, no video, nothing 3D whatsoever – and yet it makes my decent computer struggle and stutter. I shouldn’t really be surprised that a slapdash effort such as this turns out to be a memory vampire, but it was the final straw for me – I don’t have any respect for a developer that not only masquerades total rubbish as games, but also ensures they can’t even run smoothly. An absolute, pitiful joke.
Either they forgot the “p” at the start of their title, or they were just simply taking the “p”. An absolute travesty and an argument for more rigorous screening on Steam.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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