Cracking the code of an award-winning puzzle adventure#
Something is wrong. It’s subtle at first - so subtle, in fact, that it seems like an oversight on the part of LOCK’s creator. Two of the trees on the island are firmly planted in the grass. One of them, however, is sitting on a green base. Funny, we think to ourselves, as we set about figuring out the four-letter password to the panel currently locking the door to the house. Perhaps they forgot to remove it.
Underestimating Pixel_Gorilla is our first mistake.
We make plenty of them in this first-person puzzle game, a creation almost certainly inspired by Jonathan Blow’s The Witness: there are logic puzzles to solve and codes to decipher, as well as meta trickery. But for those who felt burned out on Blow’s endless mazes, or intimidated by the cold silence of his vast island, this more compact - but incredibly deep - experience may appeal.
For one thing, you’ve got company: a voice, piped through speakers wedged into the corners of LOCK’s central building whenever a panel’s password is correctly entered. When its programmed facade begins to glitch out, you realise there’s a real human behind it. This person, like you, is wrestling with an uneasy feeling - the sense that he knows this place, and that what you’re doing is somehow restoring his memories. Whenever a solution seems out of reach, clues rattling around your head on an intellectual spin cycle (a tip: keep a notebook on hand), the promise of a steady drip-feed of information - for him, and you - keeps you pushing on.
What’s more, as you journey around the house - and beyond - you’ll soon start to realise the value of errors, of inconsistencies designed to shake you into another consciousness. A stray biscuit left upon a newspaper; a chessboard abandoned mid-match; a clock face with letters instead of numbers; a beady-eyed pair of owl statues: these things may sound like the contents of a car boot sale, but are in fact clever signals. While not every puzzle is perfectly communicated - the ‘Hint’ system, available on each panel, occasionally has to do some heavy lifting - most challenges are well-pitched. Pixel_Gorilla has an an eye for detail, and a rare ability to construct a tantalising breadcrumb trail, to rival any of your favourite puzzle game developers.
With a runtime of several hours, you can expect to be led down many a winding path in your pursuit of answers. Chances are you’ll find them; this is a generous game, both in its non-linear structure (you’re free to walk away from puzzles at any time to try others, which often helps us get unstuck) and its storytelling, which by game’s end leaves you in no doubt as to the true nature of this island.
Like many of the best puzzle games, LOCK is a game that plays on - even comments on - the human compulsion to interrogate the problems we perceive. After all, sometimes - just like that green base, it turns out - what looks like a mistake can be the first step to uncovering the truth.
Verdict: An unmissable play for puzzle aficionados, and one of the greatest games made in Dreams to date.
(Requires that you own Dreams)
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