The Search is short experience, but it’s one that makes you think. While at its core it’s a point-and-click puzzle game, it’s crafted in a such a way that the beautiful environments and surreal settings yoursearch through become much more than set dressings, reinforcing the questions and concepts the game presents, and turning some concepts rather expertly on there heads, using gameplay mechanics themselves to reinforce philosophy.
Note: While this review does not spoil any solutions to the puzzles in The Search, it does discuss some of the concepts introduced throughout the game, including those presented in the conclusion.
Embark on a journey of discovery and inspiration in The Search – a story-driven puzzle-adventure set in a mysterious world where art comes to life!
In an unknown world, you’ll search for clues about the nature of this place, as well as your own past. Guided only by the letters of a mysterious stranger, you’ll find that this universe works differently from our own. It’s a world in which obstacles can be overcome by your own creativity – and where art comes to life to create tears in the fabric of reality.
Who wrote the letters that guide you? What is the nature of this surreal, enchanted universe? And why were you chosen to take this journey?
The Search starts by setting you on a path. All around you is darkness, and ahead of you are four platforms bathed in the light of street lamps. Each platform has a tool that you’ll use to explore a series mindscapes and wrestle with the ideas of passivity, reality and the act of artistic creation. Your given a camera, a lighter and a ticket, and transported in a the first of a series of serene environments that will lead you closer and closer to the game’s statements on these concepts.
Each mindscape is beautifully animated and drawn, full of color, detail and warmth. Each area centers around a puzzle. This puzzle is symbolic, revolving around capturing a concept with your camera, refining it with the fire of your lighter, using the pigment produced to create paint with which you create a new reality on canvas.
Each mindscape has it’s own color theme, meaning you aren’t able to paint your way out a blue memory with a red concept or pigment. What this ends up creating is a scavenger hunt in each level, search for a symbol indicating where you need to snap a picture, searching for the canvas, paint bucket and brush hidden under tables, in barrels, or in perhaps a more conceptual place. There are twists and complex turns on this formula, but the basic solution to each level always involves these steps, making the entire experience feel like it’s reinforcing a practice more than presenting unique puzzles.
This is central to understanding The Search. Throughout each level are snippets of philosophy from Jung, Freud and many other great minds, all penned and signed by The Invisible, which I believe in some ways represents the subconscious of the player. As you repeat the process of taking an idea, breaking it down into it’s most basic form, and then using that to move forward, your steps are reinforced by these recognizable names of philosophy, each mindscape refines your own understanding of creativity. These notes, and this journey itself, talk about the nature of the self, creativity, and creation, all leading towards the importance of creating for yourself and not others, and balancing your influence from other works of creativity, while not falling to the wasteland of duplication and regurgitation.
Ultimately, this means The Search is not going to be for everyone. It’s a very philosophical game, and relies on you listening and reading the ideas presented. Rushing through The Search in some effort to speed run it or solve the puzzles as quickly as possible entirely misses the point of the game. This is a journey your are walking alongside the protagonist, which unravels and refines itself the further you progress until only the most simple concepts remain, and you have a choice; whether to embrace or reject what you have learned and listened to (though you may not realize your making the choice immediately).
None of the puzzles are particularly hard, though there are few twists and turns which I found incredibly well implemented, and the game itself will only take you about an hour to go through in its entirety. However, it is incredibly well crafted, with gorgeous art, and environments, a wonderful musical score, and audio design, and fantastic voice acting from Cissy Jones, who many will no doubt recognize from Life is Strange and Firewatch.
When it comes down to it, while the actual gameplay of The Search only took me 1 hour, I ended up thinking about the ideas and concepts it presented for the rest of the day, and some of what Jason Godbey presented in the game really stuck with me and changed the way I look at my own consumption of media and my own creative endeavors.
If you’re looking for a incredibly well crafted game that gets your brain moving, challenges the way you think about art and creative pursuits, at takes you for a heartfelt, hour long journey, you’d be hard pressed to find something better than The Search.