You have no idea on whose side you might be, whether what you're being told is true, and most of all, who to trust. It's an extraordinary experience in a game. It breaks an enormous rule. When games tell you how to play, either through an early tutorial or when introducing a new mechanic, it surely has to tell the truth? It's unnerving on new levels for this not to be safe.
I'm not sure I like it. But I'm more sure I don't like how hard The Void is. It's stupendously, unrelentingly difficult. It's so very difficult that you will find yourself in situations where you have no choice but to reload older save positions in order to be able to carry on. The key issue is moving from chamber to chamber - to do so you need to have colour in your hearts, which drains at an alarming rate. Run out and it's game over. Be somewhere where you can't gather any more, and there's no way out of it.
Of course it's arguable that you let yourself get into this situation, but as you start the game this is more often because you did what the game told you to do. It's tempting to forgive The Void of so much for being quite so interesting. But this isn't reasonable. Some may find the astonishing opening difficulty to be cherished, others might call it horrible design. It does seem to be deliberate, rather than an unwitting mistake by the developers, but forcing you to make improbable guesses as to the nature and power of various colours will not entertain all. It certainly didn't me.
The game revels in leaving you to find things out on your own, only explaining them later (deliberately too late) to be sure you understood why you survived. Which would be a wonderful thing if not understanding them didn't mean you'd played yourself into an irreversible corner. No amount of esoteric brilliance and haunting intrigue, and it has this in vatfuls, let me feel comfortable with it.
So much is very, very wonderful. The design, while not boasting state of the art graphics, is exceptional. In fact, it's enormously frustrating that all the appropriate descriptions for The Void have been worn out by their being applied to games that don't come close to earning them.
This is a nightmare-scape, a twisted, demented world, horrific and terrifying. Arriving somewhere new is always a remarkable experience, forcing you to stare up and gawp at its majestic imposing scenery. Creatures appear benign, almost cute in an alien way, until they reveal their ghastly faces and attack. The Brothers demonstrate an imagination at work unlike anything else in gaming. Their Cronenbergian fusion of organic and metallic parts create monstrous beings that hideously boom their criticisms of you as they stalk, stomp, roll or float across broken landscapes.
The writing is also superb. Bear in mind this is a translated Russian game, and that statement still applies. Pathologic simultaneously suffered and was elevated by the peculiarly poetic mistranslations. The Void's opaque and bewildering script is quite deliberate this time. Wonderful phrases appear throughout, like the early description of the Void as being "a desert on the threshold of death". Messages delivered in friendly voices can carry the most threat. At one point I was told enthusiastically, "Now you look and act just like a Brother." "No!" I actually exclaimed out loud. Please not that.
My interpretation is a game about the nature of death - spiritual, emotional and physical death. It asks questions about existence, and it makes powerful statements about a world lacking passion, energy, and of course colour. Colour is a matter of obsession for many. Hans Hoffman said, "The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of colour." That statement would seem central to the ethos of The Void. It's a fascinating creation in a medium that rarely asks questions at all.
There is no doubt that The Void is evocative and extraordinary. Yet I came away without loving it. I respect it, enormously. But it's too hard, and I'm not happy playing games where my exploration is punished by inescapable death, or my confusion is met with absolute failure. But you may well be. My goodness, if a game that constantly keeps you on the precipice of failure, forcing you to be just so good all the time to keep yourself from falling, is something that appeals to you then get this immediately. The tension it creates is exceptional.
I did not get nearly as far into this game as I would want to for a review. I simply couldn't. I tried for long enough. Yet I am completely unwilling to say this a bad thing - I'm certain this is a brilliant thing for the right person. Which is why I hope I've brought you to a place where you can make that decision for yourself.