GZStorm have made a bit of a reputation for themselves as class clowns, with productions such as Vidiot Game and the legendary Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden. You’d be excused for thinking their latest $1 outing on both XBLIG and PC to be another weird, wacky and whimsical exercise in demented comedy. Well, the weird part is right, but The 4th Wall isn’t wacky, or comedic. Not even close.
Not even the developer can firmly classify The 4th Wall, although they kinda settled on describing it an as an ‘Abstract Horror Puzzler’. The best description possible, I think. It’s a first-person, abstract, minimalist horror/puzzling and not much else. There’s no intro, no setup, no story, but I think that works to its advantage. I don’t think they could cram any plot into the ridiculously small XBLIG file-size anyway – the game weighs in at a hair over 2 megabytes.
You begin on a large, flat plane. A wall of solid white to your left, a hissing wall of static to your right, and what might be a wall of darkness in front of you. Above, dangles a strange white… cord of some description. Beyond that, you know nothing. You navigate in traditional first-person fashion, although your interaction with the environment is largely limited to moving around and bumping into things. At first, nothing happens, but you might spot something moving, or a faint cue in the patterns on the floor, and you follow it.
Everything changes. The environment is ripped away from you and replaced with something else. You find yourself floating in endless black space with gazing eyeballs looking back at you, and the only escape being a solid pool of light in the far distance, which you travel towards… and fall into, and down, back onto the ground, and it all goes black. And then you’re back again, but there’s an outline of a body on the floor, and what looks like blood dripping from the slightly reddened cord above you. And then you notice something else, just moving in the corner of your vision.
And that’s the essence of The 4th Wall. There’s plenty more things to find, and interesting ends for your character to meet, and a strange sense of progression as your successes – or deaths, even – seem to add up. There’s shades of LSD: Dream Emulator here, although with a more nightmarish edge to it. It’s an experience, really – not so much a game, and more an exercise in exploring a hostile, abstract environment. There’s some light puzzle elements, but it can largely be boiled down to trial and error and a dash of intuition.
Due to the ridiculously small file-size, we’re not dealing with graphical or audio nirvana here, but the clanking footstep sounds, the odd, scattered audio cues and the overpowering hiss of the static wall are all it really needs. While there’s a few familiar elements of other things here – LSD or Yume Nikki, perhaps – this is a unique experience, and that by itself is worthy of a look.
Being as weird, experimental and as cheap as it is, it doesn’t seem fair to give The 4th Wall a numerical score. What I can do is recommend you at least try out the demo for PC or 360, and if the strange, oppressive atmosphere catches your attention at all, throw a buck at the developers. The quick-developed prototype version of the The 4th Wall is also available to download from GZStorm’s site too, and completely free, but they highly recommend that you play the newer version first.