Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Developer: Chris Johnson, Chris Larkin
Publisher: Ukiyo Publishing
Release date: September 30, 2015 (PC), October 3, 2017 (PS4)
TL;DR: Almost flawless. Ever-changing labyrinth with intuitive controls.
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Watching the release trailer for the newly-ported version of Expand filled me with a small degree of horror. I don’t thrive well on games that pile on the pressure with timed coordination challenges and repetitive, rage-inducing ‘deaths’. The trailer oozed with the potential to do just that.
Turns out I was wrong. Well, mostly.
Expand is not a new game. It was initially released back in 2015 on PC – we even reviewed it! – so let’s see how the game has held up over the last couple of years with a port to the PlayStation 4.
The objective is to guide a little pink square through an ever-changing, monochrome labyrinth, using just the analog stick to manoeuvre. You can travel freely through the white space, while black is safe to touch but can crush you if it’s moving, Red will kill you instantly if you touch it.
Before you start, the promise of a worthwhile soundtrack is there with the following on-screen prompt: “Headphones are highly recommended”. While the game doesn’t require it – there are no audio cues to listen out for – you’d be missing out by playing without sound. The music is surprisingly moving, the soothing piano sets the tone and pace and works beautifully with Expand’s gameplay, emphasising the flow, fluidity, and relaxing nature of the game.
I was a little concerned about the sensitivity of the controls, after watching the trailer and seeing some of the precise movements that appear to be needed but the analog stick does a great job and works intuitively with the game.
Expand eases you in slowly, as you move down a white corridor that unfolds into labyrinths of varying complexity, while the path that you’ve just travelled along disappears behind you, but in a non-threatening way. Moving blocks are soon introduced but the game allows you as much time as you need to study patterns before deciding on the best path to take. If you get the timing wrong, the game simply rewinds and starts you back at the last ‘safe spot’ – it’s quite generous with checkpoints, early on.
At the beginning, you’re in control of the speed at which the puzzle opens up before you, but as you get further in, the puzzle starts to set the speed and you have to keep up or risk getting crushed – or cornered… and then crushed! The checkpoints become further apart and the relaxing flow of the game is replaced by more challenging, time-based sections. Some of the trickier parts are made all the more difficult by the inability to study the upcoming route as it is only revealed as you progress through. While this is going to appeal to players looking for a more challenging experience, it does take away from the slow, meditative feel that was a constant early on.
The game is in danger of becoming quite frustrating at this point, which is a shame as the rest of the game is almost flawless. There were certain areas at this stage which made me doubt my ability to wrap my head around what was actually being asked of me. This was not helped by the fact that the entire labyrinth rotates whenever you restart so you’re having to look at it from a different perspective each time. That being said, these sections aren’t impossible to overcome, but they are slightly jarring.
Though the game loses some of its flow with the constant restarts and trial-and-error nature of some of the segments in the latter part of the game, Expand has a lot to offer. Overall, it’s thoughtful, well-paced, and something I will be picking up again on a slow Sunday afternoon.
- The soundtrack is perfect!
- Relaxing gameplay (mostly!)
- Responsive controls
- Can become frustrating at later stages
Suitable for children, although coordination is required to progress.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.