I’ve spoken about my fascination with meta-horror titles before. Even in cases where these types of games aren’t especially good, they are still at the very least, interesting. For those who are unsure what I mean by “meta-horror,” I am referring to games that lean on the 4th wall, and where the horror at least in part comes from the player’s primary expectations. I find the concept interesting simply because it requires one to be familiar with a lot of common tropes and culture to even get invested in these types of games. For example, one is less likely to understand why Duck Season is scary if they have never heard of Duck Hunt.
The meta-horror genre is meant to play on one’s own familiarity with a work of fiction, only to subvert it later on. A deeper example may even serve as a commentary on the original work. BRKÖUT however, is just a Breakout clone that was meant to kick start an ARG that didn’t go off. This is also pretty much given away the moment you read the game’s store description. That is not to say the game is bad by any means. I was quite interested in seeing where the story went, and it kept a compelling atmosphere up that made me want to see the end. I just would not consider BRKÖUT to be a classic.
If I have to explain the gameplay to BRKÖUT, then you must not know what Breakout is, and if you don’t know what Breakout is, then you are probably young and don’t know much about retro titles. Chances are, you know how the game plays, but don’t know the title of the game. Breakout was an arcade game from the 70s, where you controlled a paddle and tried to bounce a ball against a wall of bricks, with the ball taking off one brick each time it hit the wall.
BRKÖUT is similar, but with a few bells and whistles added. Rather than just using the tiny paddle that the original game offered, some bricks will fall off of the pile, and can be added to the paddle. This allows the player to collect bricks, and use them to create a bigger paddle, which can allow you to hit the ball at different angles and effect its trajectory to a greater degree. There’s also a much larger number of screens to clear, but that much is a given.
The base game is pretty fun and all, but the real selling point of this game is its story. BRKÖUT takes the former of a simple Breakout clone, but it’s made pretty clear early on that there is something up with this game. As you progress through the game, you start seeing vague and ominous screens hinting at something more sinister. From the information on the store page, one can easily tell that this is one of those “simple game that is actually horrifying underneath” titles, but the intrigue comes from figuring out just what.
There is a compelling sense of tension and suspense that comes from figuring out the in-universe backstory behind this game. While some have criticized the sort of fictionalization of Nazis as generic video game enemies, I do think that the whole thing about the base game’s code being connected to a Nazi program is at least more creative than the generic “haunted vidya geam” trope. That being said, it’s still pretty cringey to just use Nazi shit for shock value. And while we thankfully don’t see anything too on the nose like the bricks forming a swastika, It’s still a bit awkward to do this when actual Nazis are coming out of hiding, especially when it turns out to be a red herring anyway. For context, this game was released on Steam a little over a month after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.
There also some unresolved plot points that were meant to be addressed in an ARG that never took off, so the game may not feel complete. On top of that, there are a few bugs to be had. One of them required me to replay a stage because the game froze at the end of a rather long story sequences. Just as a point of advice on how to avoid this bug, I’ll just say to not spend too much time dicking around doing nothing when have control outside of the ball stages.
But overall, this was a compelling experience that is worth checking out. I can definitely say the game was effective in its fourth wall breaks when I was nervous about deleting the set of files that in game text said I should, out of fear it would harm my computer… it makes more sense in context, trust me. The game can probably be finished in about 2-3 hours, and it only costs $3.00 at full price on Steam. Hell it’s free if you get it on Itch.io, and you already have it if you bought the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality a while back.
On another note, this is review number #195, and the clock is ticking down to review #200. And it’s something that I know a lot of you are looking forward to.
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