What a head-trip What Happened is. When I ‘reported’ on the game a while back (that is, cut and paste a few words and mixed with my own), I thought that the premise was interesting enough and the cinematics were great.
Fast forward to actually playing the game and the cinematics are once again on par with the trailer and no one-trick-pony to lure you into something that has a great premise, then gameplay that resembles a piece of coal, some string and a stick. Hey, make your own fun.
The opening sequence was so good, it was almost as if I were watching an episode of Hannibal, only in the gaming medium. In awe of the visual approach, I took a step back, like a gaming voyeur, watching as the story unwound.
What Happened Review
Ah, but that’s the first slip up. See, the cinematics are so impressive that it gets to the point where you’re mostly watching rather than taking part. Instead of a tutorial, I was watching sequence after sequence waiting for my turn.
Still, the presentation – that is; editing, camera angles and tricks implemented, and not solely the modelling and textures – was so good that I was a little surprised why there hasn’t been enough fanfare about What Happened.
Granted, the voice acting and characters are a little Final Destination like – far from the Actor’s Guild, but enough to create a mood that keeps playing catch up to the excellent visuals. Genius Slackers have either studied filmmaking or successfully made that transition from film fan to filmmaker.
But what’s it all about? What Happened? Well, that’s for you to find out, but in simple terms, you play Stiles – a bit of a high school outsider that decides to drop some acid at school then goes through all manner of hallucinations that should be a deterrent on drug abuse, but the themes go darker than that.
Winners Don’t Do Drugs
I’ve always maintained that being trapped in your own thoughts can be more frightening than reality, depending on your perception and how you deal with ‘the norm’. Drug abuse amplifies anything you’re trying to cover up, and that’s precisely what happens to Stiles.
Instead of seeing literal monsters, blood and guts, Stiles is tormented by his past, and the way he interacts with his world could only be done in games. It was like a David Cronenberg film with hints of Being John Malkovich and even the almighty Silent Hill franchise (praise onto thee). I genuinely was on edge from the outset.
From these comparisons, What Happened is bound to be a masterpiece, right? On paper. In application, it’s a first-person walking simulator where picking up 3D objects and spinning them on their axis is a feature, or attempting to open a door subtlety, but flinging it open and scaring the crap out of yourself.
Like Lust From Beyond: Prologue in terms of presentation, the visuals are stunning, the setpieces mesmerising, but before long, it becomes quite monotonous, and you end up entertaining yourself as there’s not much to interact with and frequent sequences where you have to spectate, or sprint in circles looking for the next trigger.
The protagonist, Stiles, isn’t the most likeable of characters. A stereotype teenager full of angst, he battles with himself mostly, and you may find yourself siding with his sinister inner self rather than the confused boy we often hear (he breathes quite heavily, and as cheap as a mechanic that can be, it’s excellent in unsettling you).
But even the story starts to lose its way and sequences become hammy performances and often cliche. What once had an edge becomes predictable and a bit of a chore, if I’m honest. And the What Happened gameplay?
This was the most disappointing aspect. I could live with the out of sync dialogue and inner strife Stiles was having that sounded more like he was frustrated that he had to be home for a curfew than losing his mind and going down a very dark path.
The edge was further lost with the choice of language lacking conviction and despite the very mature themes, I wasn’t entirely on board. I found myself aimlessly circling rooms for something to happen. It wasn’t that there was a puzzle I was trying to solve, working out a mathematical equation or searching for an elusive object – there was nothing to do. No interactive elements for the majority other than pulling a light switch.
Not That Type Of Light Bulb Moment
There’s no doubt about it, What Happened is very special in terms of presentation. From the early menu system of controlling Stiles to a saved game point through to the damp, industrial walls buried deep within his psyche, this is a stunning game, aesthetically and a cinematic wonder in many respects.
However, emphasis on game. The interactive elements are too limited, and even when you have control of Stiles, there’s nothing incredibly engaging to do other than open doors, pull a light switch or watch another cutscene. I’m an advocate for cutscenes – they’re my reward, but if I wanted this many scenes, I would have stuck to Netflix. Then again, evading sharks did change the pace up a little.
Before long, I had gone from drooling over the setpieces and butt-clenching of thinking ‘what’s going to happen?’ to frustration. I wouldn’t say boredom as I had an appreciation for the visuals and level design, but I could probably have the same experience from a DIY kitchen showreel in-store. There’s the longevity option through multiple endings and secrets, but will you repeat your way through with no manual save points?
What Happened began with a lot of promise but soon sunk into the murky depths of a puzzle title that lacks the puzzles – almost a walking simulator. While there wasn’t much to do, with the likes of a title such as The Suicide of Rachel Foster, the voice acting was excellent, and the bond between the leads were great. Here was a room to room light switching experiment, albeit, a pretty one.
Like a similarly titled film, The Happening was all about bees. In What Happened, it was all about light bulbs. Excellent visual concepts and representations of losing one's mind, but the experience for the player was mostly a voyeuristic one without much interaction.
- Stunning setpieces.
- Excellent filmmaking techniques to evoke a mood.
- Important themes addressed - debatable on the approach.
- Far too much spectatorship, watching rather than playing.
- Hardly anything to do other than switch on the lights.