Long-distance relationships are a difficult fact of life for many couples, even if they’re not something that’s been thoroughly explored in video games. In fact, A Fold Apart may be one of the only games that features long-distance relationships as its main theme, and while its heart is in the right place, the execution is a bit off.
Players start A Fold Apart by choosing one of four options for the couple they will play as in the game, with support for options for both sexes. One character is the Teacher and the other is the Architect, who move away to pursue their dream job elsewhere. The gender and sexuality of each playable character doesn’t really change the way they interact with each other, and the dialogue doesn’t describe them as distinctly male or female. As a result, neither of the two playable characters has a standout personality, making it hard to get invested in their plight.
The two characters communicate with each other mainly through text messages, sometimes players are given the option to choose specific things they want to say. But these dialogue choices don’t have any lasting effect on the plot or the game. Just like how marriage is a benign choice, conversational choices are just there for window dressing.
The way the characters talk to each other is a bit frustrating at times and unrealistic. The game is clearly trying to drum up some emotion by tugging at the heartstrings, but the characters are so obvious that it’s ineffective. Perhaps it would have been better if players could have spent some time with the characters before they split up, but as it is, A Fold Apart begins with the Architect character walking away. There is no time to invest in the relationship, and so nothing happens that leaves much of an impact.
The long-distance relationship between the Architect and the Master is at the heart of A Fold Apart, but as it falls flat, the whole experience is painful. The game’s main draw is to see what happens next in the story, but A Fold Apart makes it hard to care what happens to the characters or their relationships. Fortunately, it doesn’t put all its eggs in the narrative basket because it does other things better.
The visuals of A Fold Apart are stunning, with a stark contrast between the light and dark themes when the characters are happy and sad. There are some notable visual tricks that the developers use to tell the story, like when a character is feeling anxious, for example. The text sent by their partner turns black, offensive words are highlighted in red, and the scene turns dark and grim pretty quickly. The game does a great job of showing anxiety and how mental health issues can affect the success or failure of long-distance relationships, so it’s a shame it doesn’t do much to give alert the players about the actual relationship being featured.
A Fold Apart also features some fantastic music, perfectly accentuating the tone of each scene. In many ways, the music does more to evoke an emotional response than the actual narrative. The music combined with the art style gives A Fold Apart a unique atmosphere that just begs for a more meaningful and meaningful story to stick around.
The gameplay also leaves a lot to be desired in A Fold Apart, though it does have its charms. It’s basically a puzzle game, where players fold sheets of paper to create paths to the stars. New ideas are gradually introduced from one chapter to the next, so players start by simply folding the edges of the paper, but then they have to consider the corners and sometimes even have to turn the paper to complete the puzzles.
A Fold Apart is easy to beat in 2 hours or less, so its paper-folding mechanic doesn’t get a chance to breathe. The puzzles themselves are rarely difficult, but the game has a good hint system in place for whenever players get stuck. The hint system shows players the next step they need to take to advance the puzzle, which can alleviate a lot of frustration, though it’s possible to abuse it to make the game play itself.
The hint system is handy, though, because sometimes A Fold Apart’s puzzles don’t work well. There were several instances where we would try to fold the paper a certain way to complete the puzzle, only to fold it back as if that wasn’t a valid option. After finally giving up and using a hint, the game folded on paper exactly the way we were trying. Knowing that some of the puzzles don’t seem to work correctly will leave players constantly guessing what is and isn’t a valid move, and soaks up a lot of fun in solving them.
A Fold Apart’s puzzles are serviceable despite occasional technical problems, but the whole experience lacks incentive to dig deeper. The game is pretty steeply priced for the content it offers at $20, and it’s hard to recommend it over the many other indie games available that give players more bang for their buck.
A Fold Apart has great music and a great art style, but it’s too short and its story too uninteresting. Perhaps if the game spent more time developing the characters, its narrative would be more engaging, but as it stands, it’s hard to recommend it over many other games with emotional stories.
A Fold Apart is out now for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Today Technology was provided a PC code for this review.