When I write about a game, I aim for something as reflective as possible, and try to avoid giving you a product review. Why? Because in my mind, you've already made up your mind on if the game is worth some money or not between preview content, and a metascore. I like to use my write ups as a point of conversation, and some games make that easier than others.

Be it something from the triple-A space like The Last of Us, or something from the indie scene like Antichamber, you get a wide variety of games to talk about. Most games you discuss using traditional descriptions for the type of games they are. For instance, Antichamber has plenty of puzzle games you can compare with, and The Last of Us naturally gets its comparison to things like The Road and other survival horror/action games.

In between all that, though, we started getting things like Gone Home and Stanley Parable where you get experiences that want to experiment with the idea of a game. For example, Gone Home tackled the idea of turning a player's brain into game mechanics. It was a puzzle game where the puzzle relied mostly on you finding notes, letters, and clues about the people in the house so your brain could piece it all together.  Was it something remarkable or medium changing? Hell no, but it was a unique experience worth a spin, if not worth the price of admission.

Those titles were worthy of a discussion because they presented new questions. If they were games or not, how they work from an interactive standpoint, and what values they bring to this medium. Then you have something like Bojan Brbora’s 4PM, and I wonder, exactly what values does it present in this space? It’s a 20-30 minute cinematic experience told from the first-person perspective of a woman named Caroline.

Her defining trait is an addiction to alcohol brought on by her need to cope with a painful repressed memory, as well as a man who she can’t seem to remember for one reason or another. The game takes place over the course of a short day in Caroline’s life after she wakes up after a night out on the town. Now we’ve all woken up after a night of drinking, and looked and the mirror and said “what the fuck happened last night?” You know, because you look like a hot mess. Well, that’s what Caroline looks like in the morning, except for her, it’s a product of an addiction.

This could have easily been explored, but is relegated to a side effect of the game's “payoff” for what drives this destructive lifestyle for her. She is someone with a painful memory so bad – full disclaimer: what her memory ends up being is a very traumatizing event for anyone - she can barely function at work without needing a drink.

In fact, you have to sneak her out of work so she can go to the bar. This is where the most significant piece of gameplay happens, where you have to be mindful of her boss and leave the area without getting detected. After that, the game has a simple branching path. One leads you to a roof with all the answers to the plot, and the other leads her to a bar, she drinks, something happens, and you go back to the choice so you can pick the roof.

After that, you have two possible endings. You see, the outline of the plot actually isn’t all that bad. In fact, there are plenty of memorable stories with less to work with than "person has drinking problem, person has a repressed memory, person’s entire life isn’t exactly what it seems, and then person responds to the truth," but none of this is built up enough for you to care, at least not in the span of the 20 - 30 minutes of narrative the game has to work with.

Caroline and another character's relationship ends up being a predictable reveal, and neither of her reactions during the endgame reveal lead to anything satisfying. The game wants to paint the idea that people always try to wake up to a new day thinking it can be a fresh start, a chance to turn our life around, but it’ll always stay the same.

It’s a cynical stance that is probably justified by modern society. It is, however, neither persuasive, nor potent, nor powerful in its execution. And your interactions in this game ultimately feel pointless. You get asked to make some dialogue decisions, you walk a little, and you click when directed by the game to click on something.

Where experimental ideas like Gone Home and Stanley Parable allowed you to dictate the story and the reveals, 4PM guides you by the finger, asking you to tell the story the developer wants you to experience, with two possible endings. In a game with more fleshed out gameplay, that kind of plot structure is totally justified. After all, the interactive bits are the important parts.

However, when you create a game where the interactive bits are mostly passive at best, there has to be something there for a player to be invested in. It can’t just be the plot. A movie or a book can get you into a more fleshed out plot in this passive manner, but a game should be able to evoke it on an interactive level.

4PM doesn’t make an argument for why these experimental games should exist. If anything, the game makes a better argument for the uninspired cynics who like to label these type of experiences as “non-games.” And you know what? They would have a leg to stand on, at least this case. 4PM achieves nothing on an interactive level other than letting you control a bare-bones female character with a drinking problem.

Forget coming up with a fresh interactive experience, it couldn’t even come up with a fresh character flaw. 

Final Score: 1/10

 

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