Finding the beauty of gray in ‘Monochroma’s’ black & white world

Monochroma concept art

Nowhere Studios doesn’t shy away from comparisons that put its in-progress Monochroma in the same league as Playdead’s puzzle-platformer Limbo. Both games share similar black & white visual aesthetics and genre foundations, but there are key differences. Monochroma‘s world is grounded in a surreal representation of present-day industry, as compared Limbo‘s dreamlike forest, and the black & white environments are highlighted by frequent splashes of red. More importantly, the small team at Nowhere Studios wraps a good deal of the puzzle play around the concept of literally carrying a younger sibling through the game’s frequently unforgiving world.

There’s a strong foundation that’s been built here. The Limbo-like aesthetics and gameplay dovetail well with the mechanical twists connected to guiding your sibling – effectively an immovable object that must be carried and can only be left alone in specific locations – from place to place. At least in terms of the bit that we got to try out in the game’s GDC Play appearance last week. Roughly one quarter of the game is finished at this point, and Nowhere’s presence at the conference was largely motivated by the desire to find funding and get the game finished. The small team of Turkish developers is currently looking at PlayStation 4 and PC/Mac/Linux as potential homes.

Monochroma‘s wordless story is relayed entirely through onscreen imagery. The game opens in the center a small farming village, with your youthful protagonist being beckoned to follow his kite-carrying younger sister into the nearby cornfields. After some very basic traversal obstacles introduce the core elements of movement, climbing, and jumping, the game begins in earnest when the kite flutters off and your sister falls through the roof of a barn. It’s up to you from here to carry her ever-forward, always bearing in mind that fact that you are considerably less mobile when little sis is riding piggyback.

Monochroma‘s puzzles start out simply enough. You’ll push and pull crates, create platforms that lead to out-of-reach locations, swing on chains to launch yourself across gaps… nothing unfamiliar. The story’s core conflict is set into motion early on when the siblings find themselves in a factory of some kind, filled with unusual machinery and liquid-filled tubes occupied by what appears to be children. A hulking brute of a factory worker spots the intruders and a chase that begins, one that presumably reverberates through the rest of the game.

The puzzles quickly ramp up too, with solutions that require a bit more outside-the-box thinking, yet still remain grounded in logic. You might, to cite an easier example, need to drag a flaming oil  barrel into the pouring rain outside in order to snuff out the fire and use it as a platform. Careful timing is frequently required as well. At one point you’ve got to ride a log down into a massive wood chipper, jumping off at the last possible moment in order to reach an otherwise inaccessible platform. The actual controls are still being polished, but they work well enough even now. It helps that punishments for failure in Monochroma are limited; you’re simply set back to the most recent checkpoint, which is no further back than the start of your most recent puzzle.

Again, it’s the presentation that really wins here, at least in terms of catching the attention of an audience. Monochroma‘s puzzles bring the goods too, but it’s the look and the feel of the game that will immediately catch your eye. GDC Play participants don’t always make a huge splash, but you can bet that we’ll be hearing more from Nowhere Studios soon on this one. For now, you can at least get a sense of what to expect from the trailer.