In fifteen minutes, Thirty Flights of Loving manages to tell one of the most riveting tales to ever grace our beloved medium.
Sometimes it’s hard to find an example that clearly demonstrates that a medium is moving forward. If one was looking for an example, what would that person have to pay attention to? In the case of video games, I would say that one of the most important qualities is their story. For the past few years, most developers have turned their attention towards narrative, eschewing some of the traditional elements so characteristic of the medium. Thirty Flights of Loving’s story certainly makes a lasting impression: this is a collision between a film and a game, a first-person shooter where you never use a gun and an experience you watch more than you actually play. But under no circumstances should this prevent you from playing it, because Thirty Flights of Loving tells one of the most riveting tales to ever grace our beloved medium.
In Thirty Flights of Loving you assume the role of an unnamed character who belongs to a criminal trio that smuggles liquor during the prohibition era. Revealing anything else about the story would be missing the point, because even when some of the events are open to interpretation, the best part about Thirty Flights of Loving is experiencing its delightful narrative for yourself. But what is it exactly that makes the story so compelling? First of all, the sort of interaction used in this game has seldom been seen in other games. Not only can you interact with items, but approaching certain characters reveals important part of their lives or let’s you find out what they do for a living through flashbacks.
The story is told in some of the most unconventional ways possible and that’s what makes it so impactful and memorable. Some of the events are told unordered (like in Memento) and the camera movement has a cinematic flair to it. The story is told through the environment and even though there’s no way of playing this game wrong, paying attention to little details will definitely help you understand its plot. The telltale signs are all there, but you need to make all the connections for the story to make sense. To tell such a compelling narrative, the developer decided to avoid the use of clichés, voice acting, lines of dialogue, UI and hyperealistic graphics. The absence of traditional elements like the aforementioned is part of what makes the experience so absorbing.
As a consequence, the elements the game omits are as important as the ones it has. The first time you start the game, you realize that there are no tutorials. Controls and additional details about the story are explained or revealed through signs that are strategically placed in the different environments. Not only are signs used to explain the game’s controls, but also to make references to films, tell inside jokes or simply to provide the experience with surreal elements.
For the uninitiated, Thirty Flights of Loving is the spiritual successor to a critically acclaimed freeware game called Gravity Bone which is also included in this package. Although both titles have some similarities, they are auto-conclusive stories that can be played in the order you prefer. The way in which both stories are told is absolutely remarkable: the flashbacks, use of camera, cinematic techniques and so on, make both Thirty Flights of Loving and Gravity Bone experiences worth playing.
Sadly, some issues disrupt the flow of the experience, such as a few technical issues and the fact that can’t explore or deviate from the main path. Nevertheless, Thirty Flights of Living defies your expectations from the moment you start playing it, until you reach its conclusion. The conspicuous absences, cinematic resonance and unconventional narrative work on the game’s favor, making this an engrossing experience that’s hard to forget. I’m sure that the short length may rub some people the wrong way, but even though you can finish this game in less than fifteen minutes, don’t let its brevity affect your purchase decision, because in this case, less is definitely more.