I played through and completed North on PS4 yesterday and even though it’s still very fresh in my mind with its unusual aesthetic and horrifying visuals, I’m finding it so hard to put into words what I actually played. I guess we can start with the literal, North is a walking simulator with a few simple puzzles thrown in to break up each segment. Before the game begins, you receive a warning letting you know that there is no menu, you can’t pause the game or change any options and if you close the game then you will have to start again from the beginning as North was meant to be experienced in one sitting. With that being said, I grabbed a drink and a snack and played through it from beginning to end in about 45 minutes – this is what I thought.
In North, you take the persona of an unidentified person? I say person but judging by the characters you encounter within the game, I can’t be 100% sure what you are. You have travelled to a big metropolitan city in the north in order to escape all the terrible, abusive living conditions and hardships you were experiencing in the south. As you wander around the three floors of the city, exploring various locations and talking to different ‘people’, you gain new topics to write back home to your sister about. You must post these letters to your sister as you describe all the good and bad things you have encountered so far – upon doing so, these letters you send have clues as to where to go next or hints on how to solve the puzzles you have attempted.
The objective of the game is to earn your citizenship which is obtained by accomplishing a few pre-acceptance feats. You must be accepted by the church, pass a test at the police station, get passed by some doctors and even get acknowledged for your hard work. In order to accomplish these goals, you must talk to things, solve puzzles which are a lot simpler once you read the letters to your sister and explore a little bit. It’s a straight-forward experience which doesn’t require a lot of thinking as you make your way through the whole game within 20-40 minutes (hence why the developers want you to play it in one sitting). The only taxing puzzle is the last one, which leads to the end – I’m not going to say why but this one isn’t very clear what you must do in order to move on.
Mechanics-wise, there isn’t much to say. You can’t invert your look (due to having no options) so, up is up and down is down – this is always an issue for me, but with games like Shoppe Keep and Timothy vs. the Aliens also not supporting invert, I’m slowly getting used to working with both control methods now. You can interact with various things within the world such as photos, letters and a handful of items – I can only recall one item being useful, the others are just disturbing images. You do have your puzzles to complete which all have their own method of completion – some may be a first-person segment whereas some may be watching some disturbing video clips or finding various things around the city to look at.
I have to talk about the elephant in the room – the game looks so disturbing, unsettling and downright messed-up. There is no violence, no anger, no hate and no gore – but everything is deformed or so strange. The game isn’t scary, there are no jump-scares, it’s not a horror game and it’s not even a psychological thriller – but the way it portrays people and the environment, if you play it late at night, on your own, in the dark with headphones on – you may feel a bit uneasy by the end of it. I won’t tell you about everything you’ll encounter as it will ruin the shock factor for you, but let’s just say the workplace, doctors and the church are pretty creepy. I’ve given away the police station above – according to your letter to your sister, on the left is an ‘enormously fat woman’…
The aesthetic of the buildings also adds to the creepy-factor in the game. Everything is so tall and over-shadowing that it makes you feel really small and all alone. The subtle music and the ambient sounds really help to make the impact more effective and really sets the mood the game is going for.
Usually, in small indie games like this, you wouldn’t expect there to be any issues in regards to framerates – especially on a PS4 Pro; however, a few of the areas did have mild issues. Nothing bad enough to ruin the game, but the odd drop in frames when entering a new area. However, after doing a quick search online – this was present in the PC version as well – so, just like The Station, I think it may be something to do with the code itself. Luckily though, the game never crashed or froze on me during my two playthroughs – two because I did encounter a bug which I’ll explain in a minute – usually a freeze or crash here or there wouldn’t matter but in a game where you can’t save then that info is a lot more important.
The issue I had was when you go to work. I’m going to be vague here but if you have played it then you know what I’m on about! In order to complete your job, you have to consume something first. On the PS4 version (as of today, no update) if you consume this then leave to post your letter to your sister and get the hint – when you go back to work, the consumable has worn off and you can’t get another one – thus making the work segment impossible. This caused me to restart which wasn’t too bad as I was about 15-20 mins in, but it’s something I wish didn’t happen.
The lack of an options menu was also very confusing and annoying tbh. As stated above – I couldn’t invert the controls, you can’t adjust the brightness (it’s a very dark game) and you can’t adjust things like audio either. Fair enough if you can’t pause or save, but at least give us an in-game menu where we can adjust these things if you make a similar game in the future. I really like the idea, but not everyone will want to control the game the way the developers play their own games.
Trophy-wise, some people will be a bit disappointed I’m afraid. This is a ‘Sometimes You’ published game which is well known to be cheap, easy, multi-stacking platinums. However, in the case of North, there is no platinum. It is an easy 100% and you do have separate lists for the PS4 and Vita in NA and EU regions (up to three 100%) but no platinums. There are only three missable trophies in the game, but if you do miss them then you can jump into a new game and get them straight away.
After writing out my review I hit the internet to try and work out exactly what the game was about and it turns out that it’s supposedly a story about immigration to Europe. So, your character has come from a country far to the south and has settled into a European country and you are currently seeking asylum and you are willing to do anything. You go through the hardships of performing uncomfortable work, completing awkward paperwork and sacrificing your freedom and identity in order to be accepted by your new homeland. The portrayal of the hideous creatures and the tall, intimidating buildings is symbolising how an immigrant feels when they are all alone and trying to fend for themselves.
So yeah, it’s not just a strange story about a ‘thing’ living with some alien-like creatures in a city ran by blobs – it has a deep meaning underneath it which I personally didn’t fully pick up on.
Official Trailer (the game isn’t as choppy as this – this trailer is many years old!):
North is both an unusually disturbing game and a very interesting one at the same time. I can honestly say that you will never play another game like this on the current gen of machines, maybe even the next gen. Due to its short length and lack of save/load, this game is perfect if you have an hour to kill and you just want to experience something new and strange. Although, be sure to go into the game with an open mind otherwise certain things may creep you out. All-in-all though, North actually has a decent story and clever writing when you look at what’s trying to be symbolised within this short 40-minute experience.
- Creepy and unsettling atmosphere
- Decent soundtrack (which I hope we get on PSN)
- Well paced
- Disturbingly delightful visuals
- Interesting narrative with little to no padding around the objectives
- Has no options (controller invert/brightness)
- Short gameplay
- Final 'puzzle' has no hints on what to do
- A few framerate issues at points