Friday, July 1, 2016

PC Review #148: Expand

Title: Expand
Developers: Chris Johnson & Chris Larkin
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $5.99
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There are only a few games that I've played that would merit the description of "hypnotic". SpaceChem and Factorio are on that list, watching your carefully crafting assembly line shift and spin and intersect and interact in perfectly synchronized loops. The artful combat of Dust, as you cleave the air with your blade and leave trails of mystic energy in your wake or twist it into screen-clearing vortexes. The lines of sound emanating from your footsteps in Dark Echo, as they criss-cross and ricochet in colored patterns through the darkness. And now Expand makes a excellent case for its inclusion.
Expand is at once both an exercise in simplicity and complexity. From a small palette of white, black, red, and pink merges a seamless flowing experience, a shifting world flowering from a central core, a maze of negative space. Expand's world is bound to the confines of the screen, instead morphing dynamically between levels and areas, A path may emerge in sync with your movement, or a black or red block might shove its way through the screen, or the screen may recede and retreat into corridors and openings. It's gorgeous to watch in motion, always a joy to wait in anticipation for a new level to reveal itself.

But despite its minimalist appearance, Expand isn't a calm game. In fact, it's one of timing and evasion, akin to a slower-paced Super Hexagon. Your pink square must brave five stages, each a seamless gauntlet of moving obstacles and complex patterns of deadly red hazards. These stages can be tackled in any order, introducing new mechanics and interesting twists on established elements as you progress. While all revolve around carefully dodging dangers and timing your movement with the level architecture, some lean more towards puzzles, challenging you to consider the link between your movement and how a level changes, or featuring buttons and switches to activate. Elaborate screen-shifting "bosses" are true tests of your evasive prowess.
Expand isn't a long game, but it is a consistently surprising and engaging one. Come for the hypnotic nature of its art and unfolding world, but stay for the challenge and clever level design.

Expand is available on Steam, Humble, and itch.io.

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