You know the old saying, ‘‘you’re never more than six feet away from a rat’’? Well today it seems that we’re never more than six paragraphs away from an Orwell reference. His classic novel 1984 has recently shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list - it seems that narratives of surveillance and suppression are taking on a new life in our current society of ‘alternative facts’. This reality has not escaped Daniel Moreno, the creator of Badland Indie’s BOOR, which throws modern paranoia at its players in abundance. In this entropic science fiction world Big Brother is always watching, except this time Big Brother is an AI machine called BOOR.
BOOR is a 2D puzzle platformer set in a technological utopia called Eden. We play as a girl stranded, and not just any girl: this mutant Red Riding Hood can multiply herself. She has landed on Eden by mistake, her ship having been attacked in space. It’s not made clear why or by whom the ship is attacked but we know she is saved from dying by Donovan, a scientist who worked on BOOR. He helps her for his own gain, as in the first chapter we travel to Donovan's prison cell to release him.
It is only through playing the many rounds of tricky puzzles that we begin to piece together the answers to the larger question; what exactly happened on Eden? As we travel from left to right we are faced with more and more evidence that something has gone terribly wrong and we only ever seem to be a boss fight away from finding out something big. Telescreens, and other Orwellian robots with TVs for heads, watch the protagonist’s every move.
The artwork does an excellent job of grounding this oppression in a landscape that at once seems clinical and strangely beautiful. Shades of red in the background and the girl’s hoodie are contrasted against the black of the puzzle walls and greys of the landscape. When you use her multiplication, a trick that can only be employed for a short time before the clone disappears, the world is cast in a lighter grey. This multiplication technique is integral to navigating most of the puzzles, as it is the protagonist’s ability to be in two places at once that enables her to get past trapdoors and robots. While we are given little information as to why she has the ability, it is the reason she is viewed as the one that can save Eden by the surrounding characters. When the copy disappears, colour is injected back into the world and why are again reminded of the girl’s vulnerability.
Everything about BOOR in the beginning feels exciting. The artwork combined with the eerie, synth-filled soundtrack builds a world that you want to explore. While you’re undertaking the puzzles, the sound effects keep you engaged. When the girl jumps, she makes the noise of a trampoline and when you solve a puzzle a red door clunks open with a noise reminiscent of the classic Doom games. Yet, while everything about the game’s atmosphere makes you want to find out more about the story, what’s promised isn’t necessarily delivered.
The gameplay itself is challenging. The puzzles rely on a range of skills, making use of all the abilities, and a few friends along the way too. Each level calls upon a different skill, whether that be memory recall, keeping to time or reacting quickly. You can even employ a jumping trick so two TV robots destroy each other and save you the trouble. The best puzzles make you guide a robot from one end of a room to the other in order that it lands on a button. These puzzles had real character to them.
The multiplication itself, an aspect sold as the selling point of the game, is a useful and fun tool. These moments were enjoyable because they gave the ease of knowing that if the clone was killed the game wouldn’t send us straight back to the beginning of the puzzle, the frustrating result if the original girl dies.
The puzzles progress in difficulty and length as you move through the game. As they do so they introduce new obstacles to learn and conquer. Some of these are fun, like the trapdoors, and others felt like personal victimisation. The cannon in particular shoots missiles that follow you as you try and dodge them, which had me wanting to smash my gamepad.
What was frustrated about certain puzzles was the amount of luck it took to get past them. Only four or five of the puzzles were difficult to work out, but a considerable number of them took sheer persistence to get past. These just weren’t fun. A few additions to the game, such as collectables and vintage arcade games, attempt to inject BOOR with more fun but these didn’t fit in well with gameplay that is constantly moving you from on puzzle to the next.
At a later point in the game, where you would expect things to be heating up, it became increasingly difficult to keep sight of exactly why we were trying to get past them. The narrative that seems promising thins out and is too predictable. Nothing really happens. New characters are introduced but their dialogue holds the same cadence and vocabulary as all the other characters, so that an automated emergency message sounds the same as a girl that comes to help you fight BOOR. However this could be a translation issue, as BOOR was originally written in Spanish.
Nevertheless when level one does not feel adequately different to level eighty, you’ve got a problem. Each chapter is framed with the next task the girl must complete; but these just don’t progress and the environment itself barely changes. The story doesn’t feel sufficiently developed to motivate you through the puzzles. We are left at the end of the game with lots of questions and it does not feel at the end as if the players have really gotten to know about the world in depth, its characters or the girl we are playing.
BOOR comes to Steam with charm, beauty and substantially interesting puzzles to get through, but it is its story that lets it down. Without progression of the narrative along with the difficulty of the puzzles, it becomes quite easy to lose sight of why this special girl with her grey clone is even bothering to save a place she appears to have no connection to. With all its softly menacing music and blood-red atmosphere it appears that BOOR is just like Eden, a bit empty.