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404Sight (PC) artwork

404Sight (PC) review

"Simple Simplicity"

All alone in linear corridors or huge mazes, with every surface adorned with a textureless, grey finish. Nothing but towering monoliths, floating platforms, and floors that ramp, twist, and bend as far as the eye can see, within abstractly-designed locations reminiscent of M.C. Escher works. Your goal: to guide a faceless, female protagonist through 14 labyrinths, try not to fall off ledges into the abyss, and dodge obstacles that materialize out of nowhere. You'll do plenty of running and jumping, but also aiding in your quest is the ability to detect green-colored fast lanes by turning on your ping, which allows for faster movement and the replenishment of your health bar, aka your bandwidth.

Ping? Bandwidth? Yup.

Created by a group of graduate students with the intent of supporting Net Neutrality, 404Sight is a 3D platform-runner where Internet service providers are the enemy, who try restricting and slowing access to the world wide web. It's certainly an intriguing undertaking for a video game, as the devs attempt to explain the harm of losing Net Neutrality by allowing players to experience it firsthand. Though the execution might be pretty simple, the design is still effective in showcasing what it's like having limited options. Basic running and jumping, for example, can only get you so far, as wide gaps between platforms and dead ends dominate each stage; success hinges mainly on activating the ping ability to spot fast lanes, allowing for enough running speed to make bigger jumps, as well as exposing purple launch pads that propel you to distant platforms, vertically or horizontally.

Why not have it turned on all the time? The previously mentioned obstacles have a wonderful knack for blocking pathways when your ping is on, becoming a hassle on small platforms and tight spaces. There's two types of hazards: a group of red dots called slow lanes and huge objects, Inhibitors, that emit large red circles, both variances drain your bandwidth bar when in contact. However, you also have a speed burst move that destroys Inhibitors... but using it also depletes your bandwidth. Just simply turn off the ping when nearing one, right? Well, threats are usually positioned beside fast lanes and launch pads, and you obviously need your ping on to begin a running jump or access to the next platform.

404Sight's challenges are basically a gauge on how well you can flip the ping switch during specific circumstances, while dodging obstacles and pits. Because you must refill your bandwidth bar, purely for survival's sake, by running on fast lanes, but at the risk of draining it in the process. It's a balancing act that works, and makes the somewhat bare bone mechanics and elements function together in a serviceable trek. You'll start with very linear, basic stages in the early-goings, but they become much more complex; multiple paths, vertically-towering locations, and obstacles greet you on tighter, smaller platforms. The game starts getting hard from there, but before it truly becomes aggressive, the journey concludes. Difficulty never really becomes masochistic.

Though, there are a few unfortunate bumps towards the finale, and it's really because of how the game looks. Due to nearly every aspect of 404Sight's world being covered in grey and shades of grey, there have been a few incidents where I unknowingly fell down pits. Thankfully, there's checkpoints and infinite tries in place, so these become minor irritations in the long run. Another small bother is how some of the bigger stages can be genuinely confusing to navigate, even with the help of ginormous arrows. I had some instances of accidentally backtracking several times in a single stage, which was frustrating. Good thing this game doesn't have a timer...

But these issues are few and far between, never getting to a point of burdening the player and distracting from 404Sight's message. I can easily imagine some people being disappointed that more wasn't done with the concept of Net Neutrality, but I feel the meaning could have easily been lost in something grander. Possibly get too preachy, as well. It might not be AAA material, but 404Sight is admirable and nifty for a free 3D product made by a bunch of students. Even if you don't try this just to see how its statement translates into a video game, you'll at least get a solid 30-to-40 minute workout diversion.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (June 23, 2017)

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