Pillar is an odd game to get into. I mean, on one hand, I appreciated the somewhat poorly delivered story structure, but then on the other hand, I couldn’t stand the majority of its gameplay. Straight off the bat I can tell you that this game is only going to appeal to a very specific crowd, and after just an hour’s worth of play, I could firmly state that I don’t sit in that target audience. I was hoping the game would grow on me after a few more hours, but sadly, it had the direct opposite effect. Let’s go ahead and take this from the top, shall we?
The game throws you into the role of a handful of uninspired characters, spread across a range of different personality types; distant, focused, giving, capable, enduring and renewing. The idea is that by taking on each trait, players will move through a string of levels, overcoming puzzle-esque obstacles and outsmarting foes, until they reach an understanding of each; which leads you to the titular pillar. To begin with, the game allows you to cherry pick which trait best reflects you, and from there, you’re sent on your way.
However, don’t be fooled into believing that Pillar has enough depth to stretch itself to custom its experience based on that choice. Instead, you’ll be thrown into the role of that character before moving onto the next once you spend fifteen minutes besting it. To the game’s credit, Pillar links a number of these characters together come the end of their individual campaigns, but the payoff isn’t quite what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a very deep meaning tucked away within, but its poorly relayed beat just misses the mark.
Several times I would sit there pondering the meaning of my last fifteen minute run, wondering whether or not the game’s story was truly that bare, or whether the subtle hints throughout led to anywhere meaningful. Perhaps that was the point? From my own perspective, Pillar is a game that shows how each personality trait struggles, and gives the player the tools to overcome them. Though, as with all things in life, there’s always a bigger picture and there’s always someone else shouldering the same burden that you shoulder.
Like I said, I appreciated the campaign’s attempt to hit a heavy note, but the fact that it’s often lost in translation really hurts what the game is trying to relay. There’s some very dark themes running through its veins, and despite that some are as deep and as close-to-home as can be, it’s hard to take anything too seriously. Nevertheless, I commend the developer for attempting something unique here, a story collective of suffering, isolation, and unity. I only wish that it was made clearer. Unfortunately, the gameplay is what truly lets this down.
The game sports a nice hand painted presentation, and although it is indeed quite bland as far as detail is concerned, it succeeds at standing out. The soundtrack sits well inline with this design, but again, much like the visuals, there’s nothing particularly exciting to soak up. Now, onto what’s arguably the game’s biggest downside, its gameplay. As alluded to above, Pillar throws you into the role of different personality traits, and depending on which one you select from the main menu, determines what mechanics and puzzles you’ll overcome.
Selecting Distant, for example, seemingly puts you in the shoes of an artist. Using said artist, players are able to pull out an easel and place down a total of six pads. Three pads will be used as activation plates, and the other three pads will serve as sound boxes that trigger once your character stands on the respective activation plate. The idea here is to carefully place down these pads and use them as a means of distraction to manipulate the level’s enemies into moving away from you, so that you’re no longer in their direct line of sight.
The aim of Distant’s campaign is to move through a small selection of levels, outsmarting your opponents until you reach the end. The mechanics don’t really evolve into anything else, and the same can indeed be said about the other personality traits. Whether you’re taking on the Focused role and throwing objects to manipulate your foes, working to unlock doors and avoiding capture with Enduring and Renewing role, or solving numerical puzzles with the Giving and Capable role, the game tends to rely on the same boring functionalities.
It doesn’t help matters that the puzzles are fairly underwhelming, lacking any notion of difficulty or intrigue. Maybe that’s the point? Maybe Pillar is designed to be more of a tranquil, simplistic experience that gives you some time to reflect on your life as you play? I could never really digest the meaning of it all. If you’re a sucker for games like this and you enjoy simple, basic outings, you’re likely to pull more from Pillar than I could. Sadly, I found it to be little more than puddle deep, frustrating and wildly boring from start to finish.
Pillar’s drawback is that whatever message it’s trying to relay, is completely undermined by its overly basic puzzle design. I commend the developer for creating something unique and somewhat various, but in the face of its sheer simplicity and its vagueness, boredom strikes far sooner than intrigue. The end result makes for a game that seems as though it has a lot to say, but ends up saying very little at all.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.