All the Delicate Duplicates by Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell is a musing on the theme knowledge is power and how knowledge can change your perception of the world — sometimes in drastic ways. It’s also a psychological drama about a single father and his daughter (John and Charlotte Sykes) — or is it a sci-fi drama about a single father and his daughter? — in which a set of peculiar objects, inherited from an “Aunt Mo“, play an important role. I found it all to be quite fascinating. It’s also the only game I’ve played so far that isn’t vilifying its possibly schizo.typal[affective][phrenic]¹ character.
The main mechanic is you walking around in the Sykes househould at different times, looking at their belongings, interacting with various electronic devices, reading notes and journals, message logs and documents, wall scribblings, floaty text, PostIts; you name it — everything counts. One could compare it a bit to Gone Home, but with a dreamlike twist to it. The ramifications of what you learn, as you progress, might be more than your human mind can comprehend, but you will have to deal with it. There is also an extra play mode to discover.
The story has many layers and it might take a few playthroughs to get a sufficient understanding of what actually happened. You will want to take your time, but you can also rush through parts of it if you just want to check a certain detail on a second+ playthrough. The game world is a bit like a crime scene, but there’s no crime nor a victim, just pieces of a complex puzzle.
Aunt Mo’s texts are, although written in English, pretty hard to read, but they are apparently compressed using Mezangelle, a machine/natural hybrid invented by Mez Breeze. This pseudo-language is constructed in such a way that it allows for one set of text to be read in multiple ways and therefore convey different messages². Knowing this might make Mo’s messages easier to decrypt. One could argue that the use of Mezangelle is adding an unnecessary layer of confusion, but it does fit the context and I can only assume that the resulting obfuscation is entirely intentional.
There’s also an ARG connected to the game, providing parts of the story in a more readable format, so play that too for more insights if you don’t find the main game to be enough — or play it just for the excellent writing.
I’m not going to claim that I understood all of what happened, but I do have my own interpretation³ — yours might differ.
The atmosphere is reminiscent of that in a horror game, but calling it such would be cheapening it, I think. It’s more of an “existential drama with experimental undercurrents or overtones of something not entirely defined”⁴.
A few suggestions:
The mouse sensitivity was set too high and couldn’t be changed, making it harder to select things.
The DOS-like OS in John’s laptop was a little cumbersome to use because of how it hid the directory listing when going back to input mode, making it less useful — especially considering how nondescript the filenames were. Also being able to go back when reading text files would have been nice instead of exiting out. It was great seeing an actual OS, though, instead of the usual crap we often see in movies.
Locking Charlotte’s phone was a nice touch, but there could have been a little more of a reward once we unlock it, because it took a little extra effort to get into compared to the other devices.
The ARG controls are a little unresponsive (sometimes I have to tap more than once for anything to happen) and each story bit loads a lot slower than I expected — considering it’s just text — which makes the controls seem even more unresponsive.
¹As one might compress it using Mezangelle.
²I could write more about Mezangelle, but this is not the time.
³This is just a review, though, so not the place for any elaborating on that.
⁴which might actually be the very definition of horror, but whatever… 😉
Disclaimer: the screenshot is partially double-exposed by me using a second screenshot (from the same game) projected on the wall in the foreground.