Version tested: PC
The Void makes me feel stupid.
I'm more daunted by writing this review than I have been by any other. Perhaps not surprisingly, the last time I felt this terrified about writing a game up it was Pathologic, the previous game from Void developer Ice Pick Lodge. This is a game that's an awful lot smarter than I am. Or perhaps just weirder. See, I don't know.
A review is designed to provide the reader with a description of the game, and then act as a buyer's guide. This will fail on both counts, since The Void is so far outside of the realms of helpful description that I might as well phone you up and make animal noises at you, and since I honestly couldn't tell you whether you should buy this or not. Instead let's fumble along together, and at the end you can decide for yourself.
So let's sort of outline what you do. You are dead, but you haven't gone to your final resting place. You are a soul without a memory, and you are trapped in this in-between space. The Void contains a series of hubs each surrounded by a number of chambers. The hubs each contain a Sister - a naked female form who guides you through the chambers surrounding her. You move about these from a first-person perspective, but that's about all it has in common with an FPS.
Each chamber serves a specific purpose, be it mining, agriculture or creature cultivation (I guess - the game only uses the term "mining" itself). And all these goals - in fact, everything you do in this game - is in the pursuit of colour.
Colour is everything. It's the only thing that keeps you alive, it's the tool you use to attack, the source of your glyph-based magic, the seeds you plant for harvest, the substance that feeds the Sisters, the very reason for existence. It exists in extremely limited form in the chambers, and must be cultivated by you, and indeed through you. You are, more than anything, a colour-processing machine.
Colour you pick up, take from creatures or trees, or mine from walls goes into your 'memory', a series of colour-coded vessels on the right of your - for want of a better term - inventory screen. This colour is known as limpha. Any time spent outside of the chambers, and this in the Void, costs you limpha, which must be stored in 'hearts' inside your body, constantly draining out while you're there.
Should you be in the Void and run out of colour in your hearts, it's game over. It drains into the vessels on the right side of the same screen, now called nerva. Nerva is colour you can give away, either to plant in trees, drop in tempting blobs on the ground, or fill the hearts of Sisters. It's a cycle of energy - harvested, processed, and replanted, hopefully in such a way that you'll create a colour profit.
Colour is, of course, much more complicated than this. There are different colours, and each has unique properties. As you progress you will gain more hearts for your character, each of which can be filled by any colour. But some colours don't get along. Others do. You have to figure out which. Have gold in your heart when giving colour to a Sister and it will have a greater impact - but the game's not going to readily tell you this. Each heart offers a glyph that gives you a new ability, perhaps forming a shield, or boosting your speed, or mining walls, each costing you colour to use.
Hindering you (or are they?) in your progress are the Brothers. These hideous creatures contrast the elegant, siren-like beauty of the sisters. They look like H.R. Giger's fever dreams, brutal fusions of flesh and machine. Before their appearance The Void simply suggests its sinister nature. Once you see your first Brother your imagination is outdone. Their role is to - well, no, I'm stopping here. Their role is a secret you should learn for yourself.
If this were a regular game I'd summarise this all by saying, "Your goal is to collect enough colour to open the Sister's hearts, and thus access farther areas of the game." But this isn't a regular game, that doesn't satisfactorily describe your task, and even though that's what you're first told to do, there's this unavoidable nagging thought in your mind that the game might be lying to you.
That's the key to understanding why understanding The Void isn't an option. The joy or the hate of it is not knowing what you're doing, and any time you get close to thinking you do, then being sent into spirals of doubt about it. Take the twisted fauna of the world. Most of it is intent on killing you, and you're instructed by the first Sister to eradicate them by using colour as a weapon. So this you do, until the haunting voices of the Brothers question this behaviour. Was that wrong? Should I be doing something else? And what about the fireflies from which I can harvest so much colour - was I supposed to leave them alone?