Only If

by

What an appropriate title.

Where to start with Only If…. I’ll preface this by saying that Only If does a number of things very well indeed, about which I’ll go into more detail shortly, it also has one of the worst endings I’ve encountered in a video game.

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Only If is a first person puzzle game; you awake after a house party, seemingly hungover and the last one out the door. The game at this point introduces its faceless antagonist. You hear a voice over a radio; a man with a thick New York accent taunting and mocking you, which he continues to do throughout the couple of hours Only If takes to finish. Threatening and intimidating, he’s one of the game’s strongest aspects, a menacing presence throughout and, once or twice, a physical presence as well.

The game’s predominant mechanic sees you solving his riddles to progress, having said that the game does a good job at mixing up its mechanics. The occasional quick time event, some puzzle solving, some quick thinking hide and seek all manage to keep the experience fresh throughout. A mark of quality in these particular brand of first person games is the atmosphere; Only If has some lows, but on the whole it creates an oppressive and detailed world for you to explore.

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It was hard to find any impressions of Only If when preparing to write this; only IndieStatik had offered any criticism, and that was of the early build a number of months ago. Only If offers the chance for reviewers to discuss some things that perhaps we wouldn’t normally; to discuss the story and aspects of the game to unpick at what the team have created here. IndieStatiks made two assertions in their early preview that I take issue with; the first is the comparison to Valve’s Portal. You’re “lock[ed] in a dishevelled room, forcing you to solve various puzzles, with an ethereal voice blabbers on.” It’s a simple comparison, while ultimately a lazy and unfair one. Only If has much more in common with The Stanley Parable, but even that is a stretch.

The second is the discussion of the voice acting. Some of it is good, some, however, is awful. Anthony, your main character, becomes increasingly amateur and unnecessarily vulgar. It’s a sign of things to come, too. The game descends from peculiar puzzler, to an intense, oppressive game about escape – before turning into a.. bizarre, pompous and deliberately obtuse game with an unwarranted and undeserved meta-narrative.

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It’s a shame; some people might like the ending in a “holy shit who saw that coming!?” sort of way. Others, and I fall into this category, will see it as a quite deliberate “fuck you.” I understand the need to end a game in an appropriate way, and the game does feel like it’s keeping any kind of potential conclusion firmly under wraps until the final reveal. I would be extremely interested to give the creators the opportunity to explain, at least, the thinking behind it.

Only If, then, is more of a case of What If. A number of great ideas, and some very impressive ones, marred by some increasingly amateur voicework and a poor ending. Only If is free to download and is, if nothing else, worth checking out.