Split is a ItsFine Games first puzzle game on Steam. Its main gameplay mechanic is having the player split the cube it is playing as into many smaller cubes in order to hold down buttons and activate switches. Its is currently available on Steam for £6.99 (or $9.88) and is still in early access.
GraphicsFirst things first, the word "minimalist" is going to be used a lot throughout this article. That isn't because I cannot find another word to use to describe this game, but rather, the word fits the style of the game so well. It is like the entire setting was crafted around the one word. The graphics in this game are minimalist. There are no harsh lines anywhere to be seen in the game and each level has a different hue about it. Surfaces seem smooth and nothing is too rough on the eye. I would most likely compare the style of the levels to the Japanese Zen gardens that you can find on the internet.This is a beautiful angle that the developers went for. As many players can get frustrated whilst playing puzzle games, the fact that you have this calming atmosphere around you simply stops that rage from building and you are left in a sense of calm. Each level is constructed in mid air with the softer soundtrack playing over the top. There are, of course, option for the graphics in the option menu but these simply range from "low" to "epic". Even with the worst of computers, this simplistically stunning game will easy to run on any graphics setting.
SoundsThe soundtrack in this game is the second thing that resonates with the simple graphics to provide the player with that Zen-like state of mind. Even from the main menu, we are presented with this peaceful, almost floaty music that makes you seem as though you have just entered a dojo. Then, as the player progresses through each level, they are given a new track for each level. Not only this, but they are given a new track that fits, in someway, to the level. For example, the fourth level takes place on what looks to be a snowy mountain side. Here, the soundtrack employs lower tones and chimes of brass together to make a fantasy-like sound that fits perfectly with the theme of the level. Other levels also take on this concept. The only problem with the soundtrack for this game is that it is possible to hear the song loop many times during the level. Again, as I was playing through the snowy mountain level, the puzzle is quite complex and can take newer players longer to figure out how to solve the puzzle. The longer you take to find the solution on the level, the more chance and the more times you will hear the song loop. However, this isn't as bad as I'm making it out to be as the songs are quite nice to listen too and they are on for so long that you tend to not notice them changing.
ControlsJust like the overall theme of the game, the control are simplistic and minimal. The game uses no more than 9 buttons in order for you to play it. As per, WASD is used to rotate the camera around the cubes that you are using, left click selects to cubes in a strategy like manner and right click will move the cubes. In order to split the cubes, you need to use space bar. This will divide the cube you have currently selected in half and allow you to move both of the separately. The escape key also closes the game completely. I only found this out because I was trying to return to the main menu, naturally clicking escape to look for a pause menu, and I closed the game entirely. Other than these controls listed above, there really isn't much more to the game, you only have to worry about applying all these different tactics in the levels themselves.
GameplayIn this article, you will notice a distinct lack of "storyline" details. That is because there just simply isn't any story. The game does not explain why you are playing as a cube or why you are in these strange worlds. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it just means that players might end up being a bit confused. Mainly, the main goal is to move the whole cube from one end of the world to the portal at the other end, using whatever means necessary. One of the first things that I noticed when i loaded up the game for the first time was the fact that the instructions are accessible from the main home screen. This was an interesting feature to me as they are normally shown to the player through a set of intricately designed tutorial levels. While these are still in the game, they are not as long as other games, spanning a mere two level of about 3 minutes each. This does also mean that you cannot access them in game, as there is no pause button or menu. This was another feature that I didn't like about Split, the lack of pause button. Obviously, as I was playing, I had to take notes on the game. However, as I was doing this,I lost the ability to pause the game. This meant that my timer for the level would continue to rise and the music would continue to loop. This is unfortunate as it can ruin some of the things for some players, for example completionists who like to get the lowest times possible or people wanting to take breaks.Alongside this, there are only roughly 16 levels (it was hard to count as the level select screen is rendered in 3D, the picture below). However, I have full faith that this will increase in number with the possibility of even DLC as this game is still in early access.
Even though there are as little as 16 levels, each one will take you some time to figure out and it might take you a while to get your head around the mechanics of the level. This is where one of the more ignored features of the game comes into play; the restart button. This button (R) does exactly what you would expect it to do...restart the level, resetting the amount of splits you have performed, the amount of buttons you've pressed and your overall progress entirely on the level. However, you can use this to your advantage as you are able to experiment with the level and with the cubes, buttons and platforms before hitting restart and trying it all again. This is very useful as some of the buttons you click can only be pressed once per level meaning that you will need to restart the level anyway if you accidentally click them when you don't know what they do. This all adds up to make the puzzles that you have to solve challenging. The player must make use of all of the part of the control scheme. I tended to forget that the world in which i was playing is 3D, meaning i could rotate the camera all the way around the level. As I figured this out, levels would become easier to play as easier to solve as I would start to spot buttons and pathways that i could not see before. This adds a whole new depth of difficulty to the game and includes the players awareness a bit more. Once in the level also, all you see is the level and your cubes, there are no annoying HUD features or timers in the top right to distract you from what matters the most, the game and the way it plays.
All of the screenshots used here are exactly how the game looks when you are playing it. Part of me thinks that Itsfine Games has done this so that nothing can distract you from the peaceful and calming atmosphere that they have clearly worked so hard to establish in the game. Having an obnoxious HUD and constant hints would ruin the feel and the players enjoyment of the game. The only point that this game falls short on is the lack of fresh new mechanics. Admittedly, at the start of the game, the idea of splitting yourself in order to solve puzzles and then using other parts of the cubes to find buttons is new and fun, but over time the micro-managing of the cubes and the time it takes to bring them all together again can become tedious. This is made even worse by the fact that no real new mechanics or upgrades are bought in. There are a few levels where some platforms drop if you stand on the too long, which you then have to use to solve the puzzle, but overall, there is nothing new really added to the game. This is a big shame as this game is a good one.
SummaryOverall, Split is a fantastic little game that I feel has the potential to expand outwards and become bigger over its "early access" development cycle. Itsfine Games definitely have made something that they can be proud of and you are able to see that they are as you look and play the game. The amount of detail that they have put into giving each level a different song, a different puzzle to solve and a different colour palette just shows that this is one game studio that does not except half measures. Although gameplay can get boring at parts and repetitive, any puzzle fan will be able to plug through and get to the next puzzle where their brains will spark up again as they have to figure out how to get their cube into the portal that the end of the level.
GAME SCORE: 7/10