Thirty Flights of Loving could be four times longer. It could fill the cavities in its narrative. It could be patient, and let its most powerful moments sink in. But, Blendo Games’ first-person, hyper-tour doesn’t care.
Much like 2009’s Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights of Loving is a video game curated by a surprisingly artful, 10-year-old child, who pours Mountain Dew in his Fruit Loops for breakfast. Take any game’s three-act structure, truncate the beginning and end of each segment, take out the gameplay, and you’re left with something about as purposely confusing as Thirty Flights.
Thirty Flights communicates through its visuals. Where dialogue is reduced to unintelligible mumbles, the physical environment takes its place directing the flow of information. Given what it has to work with, the game forces itself to be necessarily linear. You’re the center of attention, constantly moving forward. Thirty Flights barely finds the time to take a breath while nudging you through its maze.
The game acknowledges its limitations and carefully organizes what parts of the story to tell, and how to convey them. Minutes in, the steady jump of its spy-movie score bursts in, perfectly synchronized with a shocking cut to a late title screen. Things are awry, and your heart is racing. Rushing through an airport, your bloodied teammate lay slumped in a baggage cart. Time races as the music ramps to an abrupt cut to a quiet nighttime scene. Thirty Flights orchestrates its emotional beats with the precision of a brain surgeon, toying with you like it has a college degree.
The careful observer will pick out subtle points of scenery that look important, but they’ll only understand as much as someone who sped through Thirty Flights’ expository slideshow. The meaningless attention to detail asks more questions than it answers. Thirty Flights clearly has its own agenda.
The turning point in Gravity Bone shifts the game into a frantic chase filled with frustration, humor, and excitement, all fueled by your interaction with the game’s mechanics. Thirty Flights occasionally finds a similar rush, but fails to become more than a walking narrative like Dear Esther. The game’s strongest moments restrain your control, selfishly ignoring your input. It locks you in and refuses to give you the key until its finished.
Thirty Flights fulfills its intention to tell a story in the most condensed way as possible. For 13 minutes it drags you by the arm through a barrage of disjointed scenes, somehow forming a thread throughout. By the end it’s clear. Thirty Flights could do everything we expect games to do. It could explain more. It could coherently organize itself. It could pay attention to you.
But Thirty Flights doesn’t care.