World of One (PC) REVIEW – A Well-Designed Platformer
There's a new kid on the block in the grim puzzle-platformer genre as World of One tries to set itself apart from the pack.
At first glance, World of One merely looks to be trying to capture the same implicit, creepy vibe of games such as Limbo, Inside and Little Nightmares. That is the surface image, anyway, with its ghoulish, Tim Burtonesque art style, filled with ashen greys mixed with stark blacks and whites – the only splashes of colour are the blood stains from your many, many deaths. It would be easy to dismiss it as ‘just another one of those Limbo games.’
That’s not to suggest that comparisons to those games are a hindrance to World of One. The niche for well-crafted, puzzle-platformers that focus on being ominous as hell has grown, albeit slowly, over the last few years – not enough to crowd a market place, mind, so any comparisons we can draw can’t impact World of One too heavily.
With that in mind, World of One has its own merits. It is a game that is very much aware of its inspirations, but developer, The Grimworld Team, takes steps to differentiate World of One from other games in the same vain. Its story forms slowly, falling into place like puzzle-pieces, although World of One relies heavily on symbolic gestures and imagery, rather than telling you outright what is happening.
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The Grimworld Team are respectful of the player in that they don’t feel it necessary to spoon-feed the narrative. Outside of the scant on-screen text speak and the knowledge that you are being haunted, and pursuing, a ghostly spectre across the realms you pass through, it is a story whose message is implied rather than told directly. It is possible, to the less astute, to play through World of One and not have a clue what is happening. But that’s okay because World of One’s level design and gameplay mechanics have got you covered.
Uniquely, World of One doesn’t offer a traditional point A to B means of progressing through its levels. Each level is literally a small world, focused on a gameplay mechanic or concept. You circle each world, completing the puzzles and the level finishes once you have completed a full circulation. Puzzles are well designed and challenging – some of which require a real trial and error approach. Death comes quick and fast, although thankfully, World of One has a generous checkpoint system which alleviates some of the frustration after watching the player character get impaled on spikes, mauled by zombified dogs or blown-up after the twentieth time.
There are also moments where the game will offer a choice of direction. One segment saw me fall beneath the surface of one level, into a dungeon, where I was met with two signposts. One read ‘cowardice,’ and the other, ‘bravery.’ Going in one direction required you battle several enemies to progress and the other to pass through an obstacle course of tripwires and hanging buzz saws. The way its levels are mapped out should intrinsically open the game up to a variety of choice-based levels but, sadly, these choices come few and far between.
There are some interesting mechanics at work which separate World of One from the pack. One of the stand-out features were giant, gravity-free orbs which would orbit several of the levels, requiring you to jump into them at just the right time to navigate over hazardous terrain. There is a lot of creativity on show when incorporating these features into the platforming. It’s a shame that the game rarely makes use of its more unique mechanics, as the levels where they are used are some of the most enjoyable. The floating orbs were featured a few times in the first chapter and not seen since the first boss was beaten.
One of the key areas where World of One looks to stand out is that it makes combat a tangible option. To use Limbo or Inside as comparisons, combat was never on the cards and the only means to progress was to evade pursuers. World of One gives you a shovel after the first stage, which doubles both as an item to activate certain switches and club the monstrous ghouls dotted throughout the levels. The issue is that the combat mechanics feel a little too clunky to be enjoyable.
Conversely, the combat is simplistic, with enemies telegraphing their responses early and their limited attack patterns become predictable. It only becomes tough when multiple enemies are coming for you at once. In such moments, deaths can feel cheap as all enemies are able to one-shot you, meaning that if you mistime a dodge, or dodge in the wrong direction, you’ll have to restart your progress. Incidentally, the enemy you feel would be the least challenging – the dogs – are the toughest to time your attacks for. One section saw me fighting off about six or seven enemies only to fall victim to a dog waiting before the exit.
Despite the quibbles with the combat, World of One is still an enjoyable game and, fortunately, the focus is very much on puzzle-solving and platforming. Gameplay and aesthetics are complimented with excellent sound-design and eerie music. Areas such as these are overlooked but the snarling of enemies watching ahead and slow-paced, rhythmic, thumping beats that overlay the stark visuals. Boss battles introduce rock inspired tracks which intensify as the battles progress leading – naturally – to the heightening of tension.
World of One is, at its core, an extremely well-designed puzzle-platformer, and it excels when it sticks to this style of gameplay. When combat is introduced to the experience is where the cracks begin to show, however, as mentioned, combat doesn’t appear much, outside of a few key levels and boss-battles. If not for its interesting art style and occasional use of unique gameplay mechanics, I don’t know if I would feel the same way about World of One. It does a lot well but the areas where it succeeds are showcased very little and suffers from a lot of missed opportunities to demonstrate how unique World of One can be.
All media courtesy of Grimwood Team and BH Impact.