February 27, 2015 8:00 AM | Lena LeRay
Standpoint is a first-person puzzle platformer, and as is common for that kind of game, it hinges on a simple mechanic. By targeting a nearby section of wall or ceiling and left-clicking on it, gravity shifts so that the targeted wall is down. The game uses its gravity warping mechanic well and does so in service of its narrative, which is about dealing with grief.
A person is said to go through certain stages of grief when someone very close to them dies: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Standpoint's levels are themed around those, though there are multiple game levels per stage of grief. The obstacles the player must overcome are abstractly related to the stage of grief being portrayed, with denial including things like glass panels that can only be punched through if the player falls on them from a significant distance, moving walls that force the player backwards, and other walls which can only be seen/passed through if gravity is pulling in a certain direction. Trying to move forward can be frustrating sometimes until the player masters maneuvering past a given segment, but even that feels appropriate for the theme of the game and good use of checkpoints prevents the player from having to redo too long a segment.
Crafty level design isn't the only thing underlining the feelings the game is trying to portray, though. Sound is used to good effect, and although the graphics are simple, traveling through drab hallways is an apt metaphor for dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Perhaps the most clever thing the game does, though, is to have the targeting reticule constantly drift downward. If the player doesn't do anything, they'll soon be looking at the ground. The player must constantly correct for that drift, working to keep their head up, so to speak. It's easy to get used to, but it can throw tricky maneuvers off in a way that reinforces the idea that the player character is feeling unhappy. Update: The developer contacted me to inform me that the reticule drifting downward was a bug.
There's a lot of debate in some circles about how to best incorporate narrative into games in a way that only games can achieve, being a more interactive medium than books or film are. Standpoint feels like a great example of one way gameplay mechanics can be used to convey emotion, if not a full-fledged story. In some ways, it feels like it's cousin to music, engendering emotion in a way that the player will interpret within the framework of their own experience and imagination.
Standpoint will be available via Steam on March 5 for Windows, Mac, and Linux and will cost $12.99.