Sunday 3 June 2012

POP: Methodology Experiment 1 (PC/Mac/Linux)

I'm going to kick this off by saying one thing: the less you know about this game before you play it, the better. I hope this is the first review you read; some others I've seen, including creator Rob Lach's own teaser video, give too much away.

Perhaps that's because, from a gameplay perspective, there isn't a whole lot to POP: Methodology Experiment 1. Concepts like replay value, player skill, and plot devices are meaningless when discussing this game, as all are notably absent. This title is so firm an exercise in "games as art," it's barely a game at all. This is seemingly Mr. Lach's intent. Hailing from Chicago, IL, USA, Rob Lach is an independent videogame developer who intentionally aimed to shake up the design of POP by creating the music tracks first, then forging the game concepts he came up with during that process around the music itself.

The results are nothing less than bizarre. From the eye-melting psychedelic intro sequence, brandishing the letters "POP" in an LSD-infused display not unlike that of a 1980's Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper come to life, it's clear this will be a singular experience. The "game" portion of POP, if you can call it that, is comprised of a series of small games ("vignettes") controlled by keyboard or mouse, each built on a different theme with varying controls. I won't spoil any of them for you; you can do that yourself if you want by watching the teaser video, but I wouldn't recommend it. Taken on their own, these minigames are frankly quite mediocre; but the point is not for them to be addictive and entertaining when standing solo, but rather to enhance the whole work as a piece of semi-interactive artistry. These small tidbits of player involvement are separated by pixellated videos pulled from the past, seemingly ripped from VHS and run through a filter, somehow appearing much more chilling - punctuated by the familiarity of some of them.

All of this is supported by the music, the true backbone of POP and where it really shines. Lach's ambient, chiptune-infused soundtrack is alternately noisy and serene, unsettling and beautiful, real and surreal. At the same time that I found myself tapping at the keyboard aimlessly, hopelessly attempting to control a game mechanic that seems to work against you rather than with you, wondering why I was even playing this game at all, I was being entranced by the soundtrack - unable to press the ESC key - if for no other reason than to see what came next. There are gamers, especially those new to the indie scene, who will be disappointed, maybe even insulted, by POP. Thinking this is a title that will permanently reside in one's game library, to be pulled out when there is an urge to play, is a mistake. Some may find it annoyingly pretentious at worst, an artsy waste of time at best, the gaming equivalent of an indie short film featuring a smoking clown sitting on a lonely couch in a ransacked apartment. However, there are those who will appreciate POP. Fans of David Lynch. Readers of bizarro fiction and gonzo journalism. Those who are under the influence of various adult beverages or mind-altering substances. Or, simply those looking for something wholly unique and strangely moving; like the best party you couldn't remember, this trip is over all too quick.

For the adventurous, it's worth throwing Lach a few bucks (it's currently pay-what-you-want, with a $2 USD minimum) but mainstream gamers can easily pass it by. (Note that for $2, you also receive the game soundtrack, which is easily worth it.) POP: Methodology Experiment 1 is available at its official site, with several levels of giveaways depending on the amount spent.

Assigning a rating to POP was difficult: I took into account gameplay (1), music (5), graphics (4) and overall experience (3) and decided on a final rating of 3.

Buy the game here (from the POP: Methodology Experiment 1 website).
3 out of 5

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