PSX 2017: The Gardens Between Preview

To walk through PlayStation Experience is to be bombarded by the sights and sounds of video games. Those that had the biggest presence were the usual suspects: Activision brought Call of Duty, Ubisoft had a large dedicated booth for Far Cry 5 that blasted twangy rock music, and Capcom’s booth was identifiable by a large winged dragon to promote Monster Hunter. The long and short of it is, PlayStation Experience easily dominates the senses with the latest and greatest games featuring explosions, loud guns, and war cries. That’s what made playing The Gardens Between a real joy. A quiet adventure, The Voxel Agents developed a surreal puzzle adventure starring best friends Arina and Frendt who, for reasons unknown, have become slaves to time.

With the demo taking place in the middle of things, there was no real explanation why the characters journey across islands called gardens, all of which are filled with out of place knick-knacks and common household items. What I really liked about this game is how you have no control over the two characters. You cannot directly influence their movement along the garden paths that lead to a teleporter-like device at the summit. Instead, you control time by moving it forward and backward with the analog stick. Playing with time helps the two characters activate switches and objects, bypass puzzles, and move them past various obstructions. As an example, in one garden, you need to advance time to topple a toy tower that holds an energy ball needed to activate the teleporter. Once you get that item, you have to rewind time to rebuild the toy structure as its collapsed state blocks the path forward. Items like the energy spheres stay with Arina once she’s collected it unless she crosses paths with a trap designed to steal them. There’s some fourth dimensional thinking involved but the puzzles I played through weren’t particularly difficult. Later gardens may very be a different story.

The Gardens Between has a beautiful and affecting visual style that combines an near low poly character design with colorful and expressive 3D environments. The visuals are oh, so fitting for a game of this type. I really liked the animations, particularly those belonging to Arina and Frendt whose body language gives them so much personality. My favorite scenes involved Frendt wandering off in one direction, leaving Arina to stand impatiently, her arms folded across her chest. The Voxel Agents worked alongside ambient musician Tim Shiel to provide the soundtrack. Unfortunately, this is one element that I didn’t get to experience because of the noisy show floor but I’m really interested to see what Shiel creates to back up the relaxing and cozy visuals of the game. For a taste, head over to the game’s website for three wonderful music trailers.

The Voxel Agent’s The Gardens Between was the cure for sensory overload. With nothing to shoot, hide behind, princesses to rescue, or regimes to topple, I can see this being the perfect game to curl up with on a quiet evening--or better yet, a rainy afternoon. This is a game worth paying attention to when it releases on PlayStation 4 and Steam in 2018.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.