Lucid Cycle Review: Tripping Over Itself
Games have had an interesting relationship with dreams and the psychedelic, enticing gamers into the classic mushroom sambas like those of Only If or LSD: Dream Emulator. Like the aforementioned, things quickly descend into a not-so-long dive into the nonsensical. But did I long for more of this crazy drug, or did Lucid Cycle wind up a bad trip? Let’s find out!
No Rhyme Nor Reason
We’ll start with the graphics and atmosphere, since we can’t really go over the plot and characters since there really isn’t much of those. While Lucid Cycle’s scenery can be pretty, it all becomes pretty meaningless as there’s little content to be had even for a walking simulator. Most of the “levels” feel even less than half-baked, including very little world interaction, and nothing meaningful in the way of design. There were no recurring themes to mention, and there was a lack of consistency with the graphical stylings. One level will be lush and vibrant with attention to detail, while other levels will be minimalistic and polygonal, some even lacking any sort of skybox, textures, or refined edges. Adding to this, the framerate sometimes started to tank on levels with more objects on them. In particular, I had to go around a city and blow up some colored cubes, and if you hit those cubes, the framerate would drop significantly, making any attempt to do the one thing the level required me to do start agitating my eyes and my poor PS4 that had its fans blasting since I started the game.
One level only consisted of going to a black orb, turning around to see a pirate ship, and then that pirate ship shrinks and that’s the end of the level. Another had me stare at an old mansion as the lights went out in the windows. I wanted to believe I missed the point somewhere, admit that I just “didn’t get it”, but after having a more open-minded friend go through the game, even with two of us, no extra gameplay or meaning was found. Both of us continued staring in confusion. Some might argue that it is still a dream and doesn’t need to make sense, but that doesn’t excuse this level of carelessness. You can still shoot for surreal while keeping a consistent tone and theme. When your levels don’t have anything in terms of something cool to stare at or something interesting to do, what’s the point to them?
Far from a Sleeper Hit
The biggest issue I have with Lucid Cycle is that it attempts to be profound or surreal and winds up losing its cohesion and sense of worth so fast that it never leaves you interested for more. Outside of the dreams, you chat with an AI about your dreams, which are only one or two sentence exchanges, and you paint a painting. There’s no other information or context, and while I didn’t expect there to be much, if it doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the game’s plot or narrative, why have it in at all? The AI dialogue gives vague responses to any information you feed it about your dreams, and there’s no reasoning as to why you’re painting in the first place. Games like Only If and LSD Dream Emulator at least attempted to justify a trip into lala-land with either an out-there plot playing along with the strangeness, or colorful and varied level designs that encouraged the player to keep on exploring to see where the rabbit hole goes. This game provides none of that, no rhyme nor reason for it to exist and never enticing the player to want to explore anything since that wouldn’t matter anyways.
Another issue I have is some of the levels have a challenge in them. Normally, this shouldn’t be a complaint, since walking simulators typically don’t have much in the way of any puzzles or challenges, but Lucid Cycle approaches it from a bad angle. For example, one challenge has you avoiding touching the people walking around or avoid the lighthouse lights shining down on the floor. The challenges are so minimalistic that they rarely feel warranted or needed. Not only that, but if you fail, it freezes the character and world still and cuts the music, looking just like the game just hard locked. Then, when you pop back in, you have to wait for a few moments before you’re allowed to move again, making failure feel like far more of a punishment seeing that the challenges don’t add anything to the game anyways.
There are a couple of good things I can say. The music is lovely, and I do greatly enjoy its attempts to let the atmosphere breathe with the music. Adding to that, when the graphics pick up and show off a more detailed and fleshed out environment, I can’t help but wish all the game looked like that. The shading, the colors, some of those rooms actually make me feel like I’m checking out someone’s fantastical dream world. It’s just a shame it didn’t keep this up in a more graphically and thematically consistent manner.
Tiring in the Worst Way
All in all, would I recommend this slip into the dream world? If you really enjoy this developer’s games, I say go for it for the price it’s sitting at, but even fans of walking simulators might feel cheated out of a decent experience here. Maybe I wasn’t on enough drugs to catch the real meaning behind this. Maybe I just wasn’t the target audience. With a lack of interesting gameplay, visuals, or any sense of thematic cohesion, it’s not worth the time spent. As it stands, I’d say save the $4.00 for something a little more meaningful and a little less slipshod.
Final Verdict 1.5/5
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Steam; Publisher: Tonguç Bodur; Developer: Tonguç Bodur; Number of players: single-player (campaign); Released: October 21, 2021; MSRP: $3.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided a review copy of Lucid Cycle.