So I finally got around to playing this one, and my review is: Well, that was messed up.
My deeper thoughts are, this was way less interesting to me than I gather it was to most everyone else, based on its reviews and the comments in this thread. In fact, I guess I take the opposite stance from Tom: had there been no puzzles and this was sold as a “walking simulator” there would have been nothing here to hold my attention.
That said, now that I’m through with it, there are a few questions the game raises that I have no idea how to unpack. Part of me feels that this is intended as a dream or nightmare analogue, not to be taken literally but to be absorbed, swallowed in one gulp without chewing. Which is fine, I’m a big fan of Lynch’s movies which are definitely intended to be felt and not necessarily to be thought through or picked apart. But there are details in place that make me wonder if that’s the intention.
First, the game is populated by people and by non-people, to give them a label. The non-people exist to be puppets, I gather, to be used for whatever purpose by the people. Most people have no autonomy, but the player character, an otherwise unidentifiable boy, does. He works toward a goal. Having played the game through I’m still not clear about what that goal was, but he definitely moves with purpose. This purpose is transferred to the shapeless blob he joins at the end, in that the blob moves with intent to the end. But it’s hard to tell why the boy exists as he is, is he an anomaly? He’s able to use the mind-controlling hats but this is not unique to him - we learn from some puzzles that the hats are recursive, the boy can manipulate another non-person to a different hat, which it can then use to manipulate a third character. So why is he alone sapient? Maybe so the player can have something to do, instead of watching a movie.
Second, I couldn’t help wondering if this joined back to Limbo in some way. I thought the worms that were embedded in the pigs looked much like the mind-controlling worms from Limbo but couldn’t tell if they had the same purpose. Once the boy yanks one out of the hog that attacks him, the pig falls dead? unconscious? Who knows, but I kind of hung around that spot longer than I needed to, just to try to find out more details. Which of course I didn’t find.
The bit with the underwater girl (I assumed it’s a girl, but that’s predicated exclusively on the long hair) interested me. I can’t help but think this girl is just like the boy, it’s not human but exists for its own purpose and is not a slave of the humans. I feel that’s why she pursues the boy so single-mindedly, that she recognizes a kindred spirit and doesn’t want to let go. But what about that last bit where she pulls the boy down to what we think is his death? She “plugs” some kind of device into him, does this give him the ability to breathe underwater? I don’t think so - from what the non-people show us, they don’t seem to need to breathe, so maybe what she’s doing is showing him that he doesn’t either, that he is held back by the belief that he does need to breathe.
What’s the deal with the blob? It seems that it may be the primordial form of the non-people, but seeks to return to that primitive form since it sucks the boy back into itself. But when the boy finds the blob, it’s hooked up to a bunch of those mind-controlling hats. Why? What is the blob doing? Do the scientists control the non-people through the blob? You don’t see a lot of the non-people actually doing anything, except that long line you have to Parappa the Rapper dance along. Otherwise, they just stand around waiting for you to find a hat to make them do something. So, yeah. Who knows.
I felt like the ending was more of a punchline than anything else. After a full game of being chased and being essentially powerless, you’re now unstoppable. Dogs can’t touch you, and heavy objects can just be ripped out of mountings. It’s your everyday power fantasy right? Or something.
Still, I mean, it’s interesting and certainly worth my time and money. There’s probably all kinds of subtext and meaning that just went right over my head. Wouldn’t be the first time. I’ll go bum around YouTube and see if someone can explain it to me like an idiot.