Game Review: Lemma

Minecraft meets Mirror’s Edge.

Developer: Evan Todd
Publisher: Evan Todd
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed)
Disclaimer: Copy provided by the developer/publisher
Available on: Steam

Looking through my Steam library, I noticed how much I enjoy puzzle games. With one caveat though: Most of the ones I enjoy are in first person and feature some form of exploration in them. I greatly enjoyed games like Antichamber, Quantum Conundrum, A Story About My Uncle, Qbeh-1 and obviously the progenitors of this new wave of first person puzzlers, the Portal series. So it’s not surprising that Lemma immediately caught my eye.

Aside from this aspect, Lemma obviously takes a lot of inspiration from other games as well. Mirror’s Edge popularized it many years ago, and parkour has firmly established itself as a core mechanic that many games nowadays employ. An obvious influence to the aesthetic aspect of Lemma comes from Minecraft. Voxel graphics are showcased in plenty of titles, though Lemma manages to set itself apart by using realistic stone textures instead of stylized materials. This manages to invoke a certain cognitive dissonance in the player, since we know rock formations don’t adhere to these geometric rules. It’s almost like the world tries to convince you that it’s a real place.

And that’s really the crux of the matter. Early on we get to know that we’re actually in an entirely different dimension. However it’s not immediately clear if it’s a real place or just a virtual construct. To solve the mysteries of this world, we can find a bunch of documents distributed across the levels. In addition to that, we also have a mobile phone through which our protagonists communicates with a friend of hers who is ostensibly responsible for bringing us here. This is where the game reveals that it dabbles in quantum physics.

Now I’m not smart enough to make qualified assessments about how accurately the game portrays its subject matter. But I do know that not many game designers willingly try to present their players with concepts that a large part of the audience is bound to not understand. And that’s where Lemma earns my respect. We need more games that challenge us intellectually because only through this kind of experimentation are we able to broaden our horizons.

During our travels through the cubic dreamscapes we’re confronted with a series of problems. A lot of the time, the floating pieces of rock are too far apart to simply jump from one to the next. In other cases, tiles in floors and walls are missing, preventing power to get from a generator to a corresponding object that needs to be powered.

Since we’re in a different dimension, we’re granted a power that lets us overcome these obstacles. In Lemma’s case, we are able to create walls and floors by interacting with the world around us. Doing a roll or sliding along the ground will make a floor appear next to a piece of ground that we’re sliding off of. Running along a wall or a column will instantly create a wall for you to continue running on. It incorporates gameplay directly into level design in a way few games have before. And it truly tests the creativity of the player to get form one point to the next.

One thing that might surprise people is the fact that Lemma’s world is inhabited by creatures that aren’t too happy about us wandering about the place. These enemies are all constructed out of cubes as well and if you happen to attract their attention – which you invariable will – they’ll relentlessly chase you through the levels.

The presence of these enemies is really the only negative aspect I could find here. Mostly because they’re constantly on the move and there don’t seem to be any patterns to predict their behavior and movements. This can often lead to a lot of frustration when you’re trying to come up with a way to traverse a particularly difficult section and also happen to be chased by exploding enemies who further destroy the level, making it even harder for you in your next attempt.

Lemma is the result of five years of hard work by a single person, which is somewhat noticeable. There is a certain lack of polish in some spots. The parkour mechanic for example includes very big tolerances that take away from the challenge a bit. Character movement also isn’t as fluid as you might have grown accustomed to from other first person games.

Nevertheless, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lemma to fans of first person puzzlers. It’s rare to see a game that offers so much freedom to players with the ways they can solve the problems they’re presented with.

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