Beckett by The Secret Experiement is a game that warns you not to play it. It’s also such a lovely little game about life and love and the worms in your brain, eating away at your sanity. Hiding beneath that dark surface, which the game is so proudly sporting, there is a sensitive portrait of love and loss in an era of despair and social decay. While not the most common theme, there is warmth to be found here. I should also briefly add that this is a game for mature audiences only — if you haven’t guessed already — and with that out of the way, let’s begin:
The game warns me not to play it, so, naturally, I have to. A sense of defiance, slightly ridiculous, primitive, but not mistaken: I am instantly hooked as our protagonist, promptly called Beckett, moves about in his weirdly angled apartment. The text. The writing style. It all fits — if a bit too well perhaps: that huge elephant in the room gets a little in the way. The Beckett elephant. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s far from unnamable (pun very much intended), so let’s do away with it:
The writing style is very reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, but do I think that because it is, or because our protagonist is called what he is? I read The Unnamable a long time ago in my twenties. I didn’t understand shit. Was I too young? Maybe. I kept on reading Beckett and got to his humorous side, which I connected with more at the time. Now, I haven’t read him in a long while, but the writing style in this game feels very much like Beckett in both wording and its special humour. Weird thing, though, I do understand shit now, so either I’m older or this game is less like The Unnamable than I think it is. Either way, the protagonist’s name gets a little in the way for me. This doesn’t stop me from enjoying the game, though — or praising it.
The game plays out as a 2D point & click. The story is told in third person through written text, but also, to a somewhat lesser extent, visually, and we get to follow Beckett, a private eye of sorts, who reluctantly takes on the case of a missing boy or man. There is also an element of us watching him, like a kid, with unknown intentions, might an ant hill. The town is watching too — always. A recommendation is to retread your steps.
Efforts at being noir and edgy are made. The game’s theme is not new in arts in general, but quite rare in games, although The Cat Lady does come close — somewhat. In visual style, the two are definitely similar, although the brighter, warmer themes are a lot more pronounced in The Cat Lady, whereas the use of symbolism is more pronounced in Beckett — and understanding the symbols used can give extra insight or even be quite the revelation.
The sound design is great. I especially noticed the sound made when the camera changes focus and location: it made me think of surveillance (like an actual camera, remotely operated) or the close inspection of something (like equipment for watching microfilm?). The music fits the mood perfectly — except in the bar where I found the loop to be a little misplaced (too happy and carefree?), even annoying after having heard it numerous times. The lone piano at the beginning had its fading silences being quite as effective as what could be heard between them.
I did find the Steam achievements a little distracting, so I turned off the Steam layer while playing — although that meant that taking screenshots became a little more involved, so not ideal.
Beckett is good quality fun for the whole family — except the kids — and your gramma — and your significant other — and maybe yourself too. In fact, it’s not much fun for anyone who’s not a little twisted. It’s a great game, though. Good quality. A bit surreal at times. Recommended.
To continue the namedropping while I’m at it: I’m also reminded of Spider, the movie directed by David Cronenberg, which is a lot darker, but has common themes and characters. Then there’s Naked Lunch, by the same director, which has the same themes of paranoia and altered states (etc), and is based on a book by William S. Burroughs. The town — or part of it — that our game protagonist is in is referred to as “Borough“, which might of course be pure coincidence, but I must admit it was hard not to make a connection even if none is there to make (probably just a nice way of anonymizing the place, or making it more generally applicable, while still giving it a proper name).
Or, in the developers’ own words: “We want to tell you that this game is for everyone. It’s not.” (which I take to mean that they wish that either the game was different or the general gamer was *cheeky*).