The mind is a strange concept. A person is fully capable of repressing their own memories if their experienced trauma is too harsh to accept. Many of my favorite games incorporate mental dilemmas in their plots, so I was eager to check out Repressed that’s about uncovering one's past in an introspective journey through the mind. With a shadow mechanic at the center of the game, Repressed dabbles in light-based puzzles.
Repressed revolves around a nameless man who is traveling within his subconscious. He has crucial issues that he needs to work out with his therapist, Dr. Linda Young. Though there are some twists and turns, the story really lacks narrative finesse as it's very bare-bones with very little charm. The narrative slowly gets drip-fed to the player over the course of the game through Linda’s dialogue to the protagonist.
The first major flaw in the game is that our protagonist doesn't have any personality or even a voice. We never see his reactions to the uncovered revelations. Perhaps he is supposed to be a sort of surrogate for the player but personal revelations lack much of an impact without an actual character to react to them. If we’re supposed to see ourselves in the protagonist, there’s an obvious discrepancy as the story unravels the past memories of a faceless man, not the player’s.
Even the sense of mystery is lacking as the therapist often tells you what's going on. She just explains the protagonist's life story as the player runs across incredibly geometric levels. As a result, there's a lack of mystique to the whole experience. The game even has collectibles that are supposed to have significance to the protagonist but they feature only shallow flavor text to explain how they relate to our guy. Repressed lacks the symbolic artistry that games like Yume Nikki and 0N 0W have in spades.
As for the gameplay, Repressed makes effective use of shadows. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of good innovation as even the most creative shadow mechanic makes for a tedious experience. As the player character is in the form of a shadow, it results in a level traversal that has other shadows acting as pitfalls. Falling into one sends you back to a checkpoint that only pads the game in the long run. There are buttons that trigger parts of the level to move as well as abstract levers that allow the player to rotate shadows.
The ability to move shadows opens up routes that were previously inaccessible. Solving the puzzles often require studying the environment or just trying out different rotations in a hope of getting the right angle to move a shadow. Often, level observation isn’t readily available and the player character’s movement speed is slow. As a result, the shadow’s rotation angle is often tuned through trial and error. Sure, the shadow you are supposed to get past is easily seen but when rotating it out of the way, it gets often out of sight, so you have to keep on guessing until getting it right.
Mechanically, Repressed is in a dire need of polish. Even though levels are often maze-like, they are very linear. However, in later levels, it became way too unclear where to go and all I could do was slowly wander around until I eventually found the way forward. The background music is a repetitive ambient track that quickly wears out its welcome and visually, all the levels feature the same black and white aesthetic with minimalist geometric-shaped environments.
Conceptually, Repressed is exactly the type of game that appeals to me. Delving into the repressed depths of the mind provides plenty of opportunities to tell an immensely profound and intriguing story. In practice, however, Repressed is actually quite bland and uninteresting. Mechanically uninventive and stylistically dull, there was little that kept me engaged besides the passable but rudimentary story. Repressed is hard to recommend for anyone besides those that are completely sold on the minimalist aesthetic or a limited creative concept.