(HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD)
It’s tough to criticize such an obvious labor of love from Freebird Games. I’ve been closely following their work since 2011, and consider Finding Paradise to be one of the best video games stories I’ve experienced. And while the music, endearing comedy, and grounded dialogue are all present in true Freebird fashion, I can’t say I left the experience anywhere close to satisfied–especially considering the solipsistic implications created from the story’s drastic shift in the third act.
On a positive note, the game is made all the better by doing away with the puzzle/gameplay elements of its previous installments, choosing instead to dedicate all its runtime to storytelling. And what a story it was for the first two hours, where I considered the characters to be the most mature and compelling individuals Kan and co. have come up with. It wasn’t shaping up to be as touching or inspiring as its predecessors, but the subject matter explored in Imposter Factory was definitely Freebird Games’ most mature (and bleak) to date.
Lynry and Quincy go through the wringer, and the absolutely gorgeous “A Reality Without Me” simply could not be played enough to underscore the tone of their challenged relationship. I was absolutely sold from the first hour of the story, finding myself crying multiple times as hit after hit came Linry and Quincy’s way.
It’s a shame none of it is real.
The story of the people we follow is nothing but the 9th simulated version of the lives of two people that existed in the REAL real world, and the interactions between the memory versions of Linry and Quincy (whose player avatar doesn’t even know Linry), are nothing but shades of people playing out a fantasy orchestrated by Neill Watts (the real Linry’s son) and his morally blank A.I. Faye, who now resembles an ominous HAL9000 rather than the sentimental subconscious of Colin from Finding Paradise.
The game ends a whole hour before it should, opting to leave us on a bitter cliffhanger. Neill callously comments on the final image (Linry tucking baby Neill into bed) as a “supposed” perfect timeline, ripping us away from the potential of any real catharsis. The character operating the story (Neill) is the very one who is not even emotionally fazed by it. Where Johnny and Colin both learned important life lessons through their experiences in Sigmund Corp’s tech (as well as communicating powerful themes to the audience), this story seems to go for, “we all could be in a simulation, but you should enjoy whatever you get while you can get it, but remember, all of it might not be real.”
I’m truly disappointed by this story, not because of the strength of its predecessors, but by the wasted potential of the powerful storytelling exhibited in its first two thirds.
Hopefully the simulation path doesn’t continue on with the following story, and we can return to a world where feelings and pain are very real, and submerging ourselves in a simulation is not the answer to all our problems.
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