You might as well kill yourself; you’re already dead.
Ever since the dawn of Portal over a decade ago (holy cow, can you believe so much time has passed?), the first-person puzzler field has exploded with an array of both affectionate homages and shameless attempts at cloning. Some of these games, such as the awesome and sublime The Talos Principle and The Witness, managed to etch names for themselves as unique takes on the genre. With this in mind, one has to ask: can a newcomer such as the indie-developed Clinically Dead successfully take a stab and place itself among the greats? Especially since the demand for first-person puzzlers have died down in recent years? Read on and find out.
Clinically Dead places you in the bed of a man named Mr. Samson who is on the brink of death. As his consciousness slowly begins to fade, he finds himself staring not into a black void, but a psychedelic landscape where the embodiment of his subconscious separates from him and becomes something of a different entity. As his brain is deprived of oxygen and death inches ever closer, time slows down to a near-standstill crawl. The last few seconds of Mr. Samson’s existence therefore become extremely drawn out, as his subconscious implores him to solve puzzles to make peace with his past, which in turns slowly open the doorway to the next life. Despite this rather somber-sounding synopsis, Clinically Dead is not a morbid game in the slightest. Instead, it’s extremely colorful, with a vague sense of hope and serenity bubbling just beneath the surface. In fact, being at death’s color has never been so vibrant.
The game proper consists of an eclectic mix of first-person puzzle solving and some very basic platforming. One key mechanic here is time manipulation. And although time manipulation has featured in a ton of games since Prince Of Persia and beyond, Clinically Dead stands out as its implementation pans out rather differently. Here, time is synonymous with color, and your location on any given map is relative to both the speed at which time flows, as well as the direction. Using this, players will have to figure out paths in which to avoid timed locks and snag essential items to progress. You’ll also encounter items that act as a sort of gauge, or “fuel” system, that enable you to exert a bit more control over events and the flow of time as a whole. The levels aren’t particularly large, so you’ll find their execution none too taxing.
It may sound extremely abstract, and indeed the experience can be. But it’s surprisingly easy to understand and get into, at least once the game gets going proper and you move beyond the tutorial. The quality of the puzzles also shows a lot of creative thinking, and their difficulty ranges from ridiculously easy to some really and truly obscure head-scratchers. Nonetheless, the challenge is always fair, and none of the puzzles display a level of obscurity that you’d need to consult a guide or a playthrough. It triggers all the brain’s pleasure centers and you’ll walk away feeling like a right smarty pants for figuring it all out.
Presentation-wise, Clinically Dead is a bit of a mixed bag. One of its biggest highlights is the psychedelic color scheme, which helps makes it unique and very interesting to look at. It’s quite unlike a lot of other games on the market right now. But at the same time, visual information gets a bit overloaded, and it can be difficult to see what your environment is supposed to be representing. In addition, the voice acting is a bit sub-par, and is further complicated by somewhat broken English. I would suggest the developer find a better translation, because incorrect speech can break the immersion quite badly. Although the voice acting is not the highest quality, one can appreciate the sound effects and ambiance, which helps to create a surprisingly atmospheric and fleshed-out world.
Clinically Dead is the sort of weird experience that shows how games can still be a fertile ground for new and memorable ideas. It could use a lot of polish in the presentation department, as it’s a bit too amateurish for its own good. But don’t let its appearance fool you; it’s a delightful and occasionally touching game , if you’re willing to give it a try on its own turf. So does that sound good to you? Because if you’re dying to try it out, click on over here to get it.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Steam) ; Publisher: Ultimate Games S.A., PlayWay S.A. ; Developer: Mogila Games ; Players: single-player mode only ; Released: the 6th of December, 2018.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a Steam key for Clinically Dead provided for us by the publisher.