Metamorphosis – Review

In Metamorphosis, we awake to find ourselves transformed into a bug. Time to put the pesticide aside? Here’s what we think.

“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” It’s one of the most iconic opening lines of literature, from Franz Kafka’s 105-year-old novella The Metamorphosis.

The sentence is a smack in the face, a surreal ride that goes from mundanity to intrigue to out-and-out absurdity. It’s inspired many a writer over the century, including the author of this review, and also—rather explicitly—Polish studio Ovid Works, who have created their own adaptation of Kafka’s most famous work.

So once again, Gregor finds himself transformed into a bug, albeit this time, he is no longer splattered across the page as printing ink. This time, you can control him and have him undergo a Kafkaesque journey that feels, from start to finish, like a dream. Not the ‘dream come true’ kind of dream, but rather, the kind of dream you are actually likely to have: disjointed, with odd and shifting logic, driven by impulse and spectacle more so than by any kind of reason.

Metamorphosis is a fairly straightforward game of movement and exploration, where your goal is to reach objectives further and further ahead. Gregor is trying to get to a place called The Tower, where he might transform into a human again. At the same time, his friend Josef K. (from the Kafka novel The Trial), is being arrested for an unknown and unknowable crime.

Much of the game takes place in rooms from 1910s Bohemia, which come to life as sprawling environments thanks to Gregor’s small size. Rather than walking with the stately gait you might be used to in most ‘walking simulator’ games, Gregor instead scurries with speed and jumps with surprising dexterity. The effect makes the movement in this game feel unique and agile. Never have I felt more like a bug.

The environments, in transforming the world of small things into rather large terrain, also felt unlike anything I’ve played before in an extended singleplayer game. I marvelled over cigarette packets, took elevator rides on turning gears, balanced on a pencil, and floated on pages of paper. Exploring small objects as a bug-sized creature is a trope I love intimately, and Metamorphosis provides it in spades.

Developer Ovid Works proves itself as more than capable at crafting picturesque visuals, many of which felt straight-up concept art. It’s as much a game of sights and vistas as you typical AAA blockbuster, and to release that level of quality with polish and completion is no small feat.

Metamorphosis screenshot

Its Kafkaesque inspiration means that just like your friend Josef is stonewalled by the enforcers arresting him, you too will be stonewalled in your quest to reach The Tower. There’s no frustration involved on your part, as the path ahead is usually clear and if not, can be found with a bit of exploration.

However, as surprising as Kafka’s absurdism may have seemed in 1915, it appears as a well-done trope in 2020. We’re used to games about jumping in surreal environments. Kafka would probably have been delighted that 70 years after The Metamorphosis, players were experiencing a plumber searching for a princess, jumping on indistinct monsters, smashing bricks with his head, and being repeatedly told that his princess in another castle. Surreal imagery is just breakfast for video games.

This means that even if there’s beauty, humour, and wonder to be found in the game, you don’t actually experience that benign confusion, that sense of haphazard dread that you get from reading a Kafka work. The game slips through the cracks, becomes yet another adventure game.

Metamorphosis is a brief and pretty adventure about controlling a bug, but it’s neither as memorable nor as striking as its inspiration. It’s not bad for a spin, but you’d really be served better by reading Kafka straight from the bottle.

Developer: Ovid Works
Country of Origin: Poland
Publisher: All in! Games
Release Date: 12th August 2020 (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)

This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the developer. The PC version of the game was played for this review of Metamorphosis.

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Metamorphosis is a brief and pretty adventure about controlling a bug, but it’s neither as memorable nor as striking as its inspiration. It’s not bad for a spin, but you’d really be served better by reading Kafka straight from the bottle.

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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