North is one hell of an oddity. One that can be completed in less than half an hour, on a good run. The game throws you into the role of an individual that has escaped the South, and is seeking asylum in the North. The North is chock-full of weird customs and strange inhabitants, instantly setting a bizarre theme. The game immediately warns you of its short length, as well as explaining that there is no pause menus, no option changes, no save slots, nothing. North is a game that is set to be completed in a single sitting, which explains the cheap cost. That being said, is this worth $5/£5 of your hard earned money, and a brief portion of your time? Not entirely, well, unless you’re an achievement hunter, that is.
The story attempts to deal with the issue of the contemporary refugee crisis, while relaying a cyberpunk atmosphere that’s described to pull on the likes of Blade Runner. Honestly, I cant wholeheartedly say that those claims are pulled off successfully. Obviously, you don’t speak the same language as those that inhabit the north, but you can indeed communicate with your sibling through sending letters. These letters do indeed offer up some meaning, as well as providing a backbone for the plot to rest on. North plays out in a first person perspective, not too unlike that of a walking simulator. The aim of the game is as straightforward as, say, Dear Esther, only not quite as intriguing or as well structured.
Gameplay typically consists of moving from one place to the next, while solving a range of easy puzzles that serve as a means to gate swifter progression. The biggest puzzle, however, is working out what the heck you’re expected to do. North clearly wants its audience to understand that its world strongly consists of control and oppression, but doesn’t quite follow up these themes with resolve or understanding. Many of the themes present are just there for you to gawp at, expressing a theme that’s already there from the get-go. It’s hard to speak about even the slightest of aspects without giving too much away, but what I will says is that if you enjoy mind boggling journeys, you’ll likely appreciate what’s on offer.
North, by and large, is all about fitting in and obeying a strict regime. On your quest to obtaining citizenship, you’ll be required to undertake a small variety of mundane tasks. Tasks and objectives that mean very little until you write letters back to your sister, which helps the game and its plot to stay in focus. If you’re here to find out whether or not North will challenge your ability to problem solve, you’re out of luck. The puzzles in this game are too simplistic, many of which I wouldn’t even describe as puzzles, but rather a list of small objectives that you will need to put minimal effort into, to succeed. You can indeed interact with various items and such, but again the majority of these barely make any sense. They’re just there. Speaking of the visuals, this isn’t a very good looking game.
The textures and the lighting could have been much better, but instead, they tend to be quite lacking in refinement. Despite the creepy and surreal world, which I wont deny is interesting to begin with, the overall package just lacks polish. The soundtrack on the other hand is very well set, and sits brilliantly inline with the game’s theme(s). It’s just a shame that the rest of the experience fails to completely follow suit. I’m all for games that attempt to stand out on the merit of uniqueness, but North just doesn’t completely tick the right boxes. North, in a nutshell, is a short walk through a collection of wild and wacky locations. Locations that require minimal effort to overcome, spread across a variety of tasks that do little to excite. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not particularly good, ultimately sitting somewhere in the medium.
North may indeed offer up some unique design choices, but the overarching plot is messy and underwhelming. Gameplay requires minimal effort, and even the puzzle aspects remain far too simplistic throughout. That being said, the game’s heart is in the right place, it’s just a shame that its structure is far removed.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.