Closure review

A girl stands on in a small pool of light, observing another pool off in the distance.

Since Braid, 2D indie puzzle platformers have had somewhat of a resurgence (to put it mildly). Typically with such a release, we expect the game to have some unique, mind-bending mechanic, sport either retro pixels or hand-drawn art, and to be "atmospheric". Closure fits snugly into this paradigm. Going in, I was worried I'd be trudging through it, rapidly losing interest as the novelty wore off as has happened before with indie puzzlers. But this didn't happen; Closure grabbed me and, through its excellently designed levels and well-crafted difficulty curve, lead me through to completion in just a few play sessions.

Like many of its indie ilk, Closure's specific draw is its clever mechanic. In Closure, the world only exists when you can see it. Unfortunately for you, it's also in almost complete darkness. Patches of light are provided by portable glowing orbs and occasional adjustable spotlights. While you carry an orb, a path stretches out in front of you, but drop that orb and step out of its pool of light and you'll fall into nothingness. Come to a wall that's too high? Place your orb so as to leave the top in shadow and you can get over it easy. A spotlight tracking up a pillar provides an elevator. Tyler Glaiel, Closure's designer, explores strange possibilities revealed by this simple idea.

Unfortunately the weirdness of the mechanic is impossible to communicate using screenshots, so here's a trailer from PAX 2011:

Closure's levels are fairly short, each one making a single point without significant rehashing or filler. This is really a good thing, as it means minimal time atoning for simple mistakes once you've solved a puzzle. New environmental obstacles, such as water or glass, are periodically introduced and provide twists on the light mechanics, keeping them fresh and challenging throughout the game. The puzzles are never too easy, but only once did any level of the game's three main worlds leave me totally at a loss for more than a few minutes. The final stages are pretty fiendish, and it feels like the whole rest of the game has just been warming you up to tackle them. I found them to be very satisfying. Of course, there's an obligatory "go back and find all the hidden objects to really beat the game" option, which I didn't attempt. If you want to try this, you may be frustrated to learn that there isn't an easy way to tell in which levels the remaining objects are, at least not one I could figure out.

The controls are simple (excellent controller support, even on a Mac) and configurable, though the on-screen prompts don't reflect these changes. Your character's movement speed is slow, but, since the levels are short and there is not a whole lot of platforming skill required, this doesn't become frustrating. The slow reveal of your environment as you walk is actually rather pleasant.

Closure has a story of sorts, or rather a set of stories, but really its focus is on the puzzles. There are hints of narrative to be gained by soaking up visual clues, but unfortunately this never really seems to go anywhere (despite the title). The developers clearly had in mind an oppressive atmosphere; Chris Rhyne's melodramatic chiller music is often reminiscent of Danny Elfman and together with Jon Schubbe's scratchy, almost Edward-Goreyesque pen-drawn environments, it's laid on pretty thick, sometimes straying towards comical exaggeration.

Little girl angling spotlights to make bridges.

While sometimes a little heavy-handed, Closure's uneasy, claustrophobic overtones dovetail with its mechanics in a way which is not often seen. You are trapped by the darkness in a very literal sense. The first time a box fell and crushed an orb, snuffing out my escape route, and the first time I swung a spotlight away from the platform I was standing on leaving me to fall into darkness — they were unsettling moments. You don't have a constant feeling of precariousness, but when the weirdness of the world reveals itself, it's an impressive experience.

Originally a Newgrounds Flash game, Closure's award-winning new Steam release is significantly updated, not only with higher-fidelity art and soundtrack, but with completely redesigned levels. If you enjoyed the original, this will still be a whole new experience for you. If you are new to it, this new version does a great job of conveying the game's rules as you go.

Closure is a highly acclaimed, impressive puzzle game from a small team. While you shouldn't expect its story to move you, you can expect fantastic level design, creepy mood and pleasantly challenging puzzles. If neat puzzles based on an ingeniously simple idea sound appealing, Closure's a game for you.

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