Version tested: PC
This is going to be a short review for a short game. Not because there's nothing to say about Brendon Chung's micro spy drama - a sequel to 2009's equally succinct Gravity Bone - but because every second of its breathless 10 to 15 minutes is to be savoured, and not spoiled. This is a game that packs more narrative punch into its first startling jump-cut than most can muster across an entire campaign.
Chung's Blendo Games has produced some well-regarded indie fare such as Flotilla and Atom Zombie Smasher, but it was the freeware Gravity Bone that really caused a stir. It starred his childhood creation, Citizen Abel, and squeezed a couple of suspenseful criminal escapades, some excellent gags and a rug-pulling ending into a quarter hour, using the artful first-person storytelling techniques of a Valve blockbuster. Only the blocky looks of this one-man Quake 2 engine mod could be called crude or self-conscious - and uncharitably at that.
Thirty Flights of Loving isn't free, costing £4 or so from Steam ordirect from Blendo; the price includes an illuminating developer commentary and a convenient copy of Gravity Bone. What's more, while the game itself dials down the already limited interactive elements of its predecessor (no first-person platforming or inventory here) it amps up the production values, the attention to detail, and the dizzying rush through locations, scenes, twists and surreal ideas.
Chung has a great line in arty pulp fiction; you can pick that up from his titles alone, which could so easily have graced small-town noir films starring Bryan Cranston before he was cool. Thirty Flights of Loving takes place in a surreal, lurid and funny crime-caper world of seaplanes, prosthetic limbs and airport escapes, as Citizen Abel sets out on a new mission with a couple of friends. It conjures an impressive sense of desperation in its short running time, but it's not all thrills and spills.
It hops erratically through time, flashing back and jumping forward, elliptically hinting at dramatic events, interior lives and secret betrayals without ever spelling them out. Rather than telling two tiny, perfectly formed stories as Gravity Bone does, it tells a tale both epic and personal in disjointed fragments, eschewing dialogue completely. Chung gets tremendous mileage out of the simple engine's ability to switch between contrasting scenes instantly, cutting with the fluid, playful urgency of a film director of the French New Wave.
In short, Thirty Flights of Loving is Dear Esther with car chases. And to my mind, it's more thrilling, mysterious and touching - not to mention more entertaining - than Robert Briscoe's pretty but rather stuffy artwork. It's even more confident than Gravity Bone, too. If you thought the earlier game had a killer punchline, just you wait.
In a world of free-to-play time-wasters, it might seem odd to fork over a few quid for an experience that won't outlast a cup of coffee. But Thirty Flights of Loving is a memorable gem from a master miniaturist who can teach the big boys a thing or two about how to tell a story in this medium. If we're ever going to get away from measuring our gaming by the yard, this would be a great place to start.
9 / 10