Sigur Studio's Repressed burrowed itself deep inside our very veins as soon as we laid eyes on its logo; white as snow and minimalistic and with a dot accompanied by a blood-red circle pushed aside by razor-sharp lettering. It really sets the tone for what's to come. Uncertainty, obliviousness, denial.
Repressed tells the story of how you, as a shadow, venture back into your diffuse memories of what once was, following the lead of your psychologist. The game's levels are black and white with the picture painted successively into the frame the further you get into it and they tell a surprisingly mature and dark story about egoism, growth and jealousy. You'll venture down white roads and will encounter scenarios where red accents appear from time to time. A park bench, a ball, a birthday cake, a bed, a drop of blood... These scenarios are memories and prompt the voice of your psychologist to echo - digging, accusing and inspecting you like a lingering, nosy spirit. We have to say that the way the story is told came as a surprise and ended up being unexpectedly engaging.
In regards to mechanics, Repressed reminded us of the somewhat forgotten PSP game Echochrome. The map changes as you move the camera around, meaning you can explore the map to find new paths to take that were previously locked off. This is more often than not made reality by activating red "orbs" surrounded by red circles. Using the steering joystick to your advantage is the key to sneaking past narrow passages and sometimes you even have to come in at just the right angle to proceed. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the shadow you'll be controlling is two-dimensional but in a unique way. If you view the shadow from above it will look like it has both height and depth, but if you move the camera down, it'll be stuck to the ground like a sticker. This messes with your perspective and takes time getting used to, which we're guessing will scare some away from trying the game out.
Paradoxically, the puzzles that use this mechanic are the game's main marketing tactic as well as its main flaw. The red orbs we spoke of earlier are present in two ways; those you press once to build a new path and those you have to press and hold to twist the world around you. It's the latter that at times led us to lose control. It feels as though a minimalistic steering wheel controls half the map and the puzzles that use this "steering wheel" (that are, at times, too complex for their own good) made us run back and forth to get where we needed to be - we only got to the end of these puzzles long after we'd felt the first urge to quit.
What drew us in wasn't the story or the way the game is set up, and it certainly wasn't the puzzle sequences - it was the graphics and the overall visuals. In an ensemble of black, white and red, it looks like a cleaner variant of Frank Miller's noir comic Sin City mixed with Superhot's design, and Repressed's visual style is something one has to experience to fully appreciate. We're sure the fascination is limited to some degree, but we have never seen anything like it in a game before and we commend the developers for it. It also ties well into the story of the game as the red hue symbolises key aspects in the shadow's previous life and are meant to represent a leading light source in the dark.
Another thing that encapsulates the darkness of the game and elevates the experience is its sound design. Plaintive, out-of-tune strings are mixed with slowly drawn out sounds that remind the player of screams and pure anxiety. We found ourselves avoiding passages where music was present for the simple reason that it scared us, which we can only count as a plus. The soundtrack adds so much to the atmosphere and makes the player feel lost, unsure and guilty of something that's hard to pinpoint. We also have to applaud the studio for the voice acting. The voice of the psychologist is, with its silky smooth British tone, the perfect counterweight for the darkness surrounding you. It's calming, trustworthy and devious at the same time.
To summarise, Repressed is a dark tale about the search for the right answers, and it offers a simple, stylish aesthetic that almost borders on expressionist art, as well as a strong puzzle focus. How far do these aspects take the game? Repressed surely isn't for everyone, far from it. As a matter of fact, we were probably not part of the potential core audience. With that said, however, if you enjoy diffuse, experimental environments accompanied by a narrative that is woven in the further you walk, then Repressed could be for you. However, if you're allergic to so-called walking simulators, minimalist design or monotonous gameplay, you won't like it as much. We found ourselves in the latter category by the end and we thought that the game offered merely an okay experience, even if it was on the upper end of that spectrum.
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