By Drew D. / June 9th, 2020
Editor’s Note: Due to the postponement of GDC, oprainfall has taken it upon themselves to help provide coverage to developers who were planning to showcase their games there. Plasticity is one of those games.
Plasticity has a powerful message, one which should resonate with every individual who calls earth their home. Based in a hauntingly possible future, Plasticity offers a glimpse of the destruction humanity could inflict if zero action is taken to curb the overproduction and failure to properly process plastic waste. It manages to deliver an encompassing message that demonstrates the individual, personal consequences which unchecked actions and indifference towards change could inflict.
At its core, Plasticity is a call to action and its purpose is clear; to make painfully and tragically apparent that steps need to be taken if we are to have any hope at repairing the damage already done to this planet we call home. It brings to the forefront the damage plastic can do and how we are allowing it to do so through our complacency. From landfill landscapes, to ruined waters, to even addressing lesser known threats, such as microplastic particles in food, Plasticity makes plain the very real dangers that are already among us. And despite the calamity and hopelessness of its bleak presentation, it also provides hope in the moral that it is never too late to do what is right. It’s a profound theme, one that focuses on what can be done now, in the moment, rather than speaking of the past, passing blame, or the so many other directions our thoughts could go. And it succeeds; it makes directly and endearingly clear that an individual’s actions can cause ripples that carry the force of widespread change.
As a message that needs to be heard, Plasticity overwhelmingly succeeds. As an actual game, however, it comes up rather short. Regarding its gameplay, Plasticity is a fairly simple endeavor, a walk from points A to B with bits of platforming and puzzle solving thrown in. This walk, however, holds simple, yet significant choices players can make, in that players can choose to either act or not. Almost benign actions, such as throwing plastic bottles into a recycling bin, or freeing a stray dog caught in plastic refuse, all speak to this theme that small, individual actions could sow the seeds for a powerful, wide-spreading result. The puzzle solving also follows this idea, in that solving them is not merely for the progress of the main character, but also for the potential shaping of the environment. Though very few in number, these puzzles may have multiple solutions, one of which usually has the added benefit of helping the immediate environment. If you’re playing to achieve the best ending, the gameplay demands awareness and action and hopefully instills such a mindset outside of the game as well.
As for its build quality, Plasticity is rough. Gameplay-wise, the controls themselves are simple, only relying on directional input and a single action button to interact with the environment. But, controlling your main character is stiff and sluggish in their feel. Input lag is also an issue, as every action has that noticeable delay between button press and seeing it on-screen. And, I had several occurrences when my commands never actually registered. All of this is true for both keyboard and controller usage. Interacting with objects like moving crates or climbing ladders doesn’t always work either and require a few attempts and position adjustments on the player’s part before the intended interactions finally occur. Outside of gameplay, graphical glitches will occur in which the main character stutters or shakes, as if caught in an earthquake. Not game breaking, but amusing in a bad way. Finally, the game could use a ton of optimization, as the game pushes any system. This seems a commonality that comes with the amateurish use of Unity, but it’s significantly noticeable here due to the developers’ assumed lack of experience. Overall, the feel and design is, well, exactly like a USC grad’s first attempt at making a game. The thematic style and the few puzzle solving elements are noteworthy, but the quantity of gameplay, as well as its qualitative execution are severely lacking.
Aesthetically, Plasticity makes a fair statement through it visuals. The world is in ruins; submerged and choked in garbage and this direct approach works fairly well. The depictions of houses underwater from risen seas, animals picking through and caught in plastic waste, and the overall dilapidation and abandonment of the world all reinforce the theme that if nothing is done, then this doom awaits us all. However, I found that this attempt to covey such a message paired with the minimalistic style and lack of graphic detail made the visuals too easy to ignore. The visuals lack that narrative punch they need to provide depth to the players and I found this especially so with the backgrounds. Yes, we get it, garbage, moving on. And this resulting sentiment of mine is unfortunate, especially given the importance of the message it hopes to send. As for the audio, the soundtrack is minimal, but effective. What little is there does indeed help set the mood as we traverse this literal wasteland. I did notice it tends to cut out fairly often, but will recover soon enough. The aesthetics in their entirety serve their purpose in resonating with the theme, but the opportunity for them to leave a lasting impression, a genuine shake-up to our senses and make the message hit hard, is never quite realized.
A warning against inaction and a hope for change to save our planet, Plasticity makes its point and does so profoundly. Its execution as a game leaves much to be desired though and its aesthetics could have made a far greater impact if a more realistic styling, even if only applied to backgrounds or play areas, were adopted. The game will only take about an hour to complete, more so if you’re willing to find all of the ways to help the environment to achieve the good ending. Having said all of this, considering that this game is free on Steam (as of this publication), there is little reason to miss out on receiving this message that needs hearing. Plasticity may lack appeal as a game, but its call to action is loud and clear.
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