Game review: Barmark and its inhabitants invite you on an otherworldly stroll
Barmark is unlike anything you've seen before.
Not only does Barmark have exactly zero in common with the cavalcade of flashy, finger-twitching mobile titles of today, It's also a game that defies gaming's essential concept of winners and losers. In Barmark, there are no goals, no points, and no death. Thankfully, it isn't watered down with "pay to win" elements either.
But, dare strip away the thrills of challenge and progress from a game, and there's nothing left in it to reward, or heck — excite the player with! Or is it? Barmark's makers at Sweden's Stormhatt Studios beg to differ by turning game design over its head, and defining their creation as an "experience". Indeed, this is something you go through, rather than "play" through. But you won't just sit idly and watch what unfolds, as this isn't a movie, but a fully interactive experience built upon the mechanics of point & click adventures.
In each session, Barmark's shapeshifting universe is randomly divided in five scenes (out of eight in all), rich with environmental landscapes and creatures who peacefully live in them. As your nameless wanderer journeys through, planting flora at will to make the world feel more like your own, you'll encounter mysterious machines, and two Archanimals. Interact with the Archanimals, and you'll get to learn that they have different opinions about which machines you should turn on or switch off. So heed their advice, or choose which machines to activate yourself — it's always up to you.
Activating the machines in particular orders impacts the entire world of Barmark in unpredictable ways, rewarding multiple playthroughs. Don't worry, the cute animals won't die or attack you, but you'll see lighter landscapes become darker, warmer weathers become colder, and vice-versa. The point is, everything you'll experience is the consequence of your actions, which makes Barmark very personal.
To those of you who aren't that spiritually inclined, though, Barmark will be mostly about the pretty visuals. We're at loss of words here — the artwork is simply jaw-dropping, and the actions you take in the game reward you with more and more of it! Meanwhile, the gentle ambience contributes to the ethereal feel of getting outside your head that Barmark accomplishes with superb elegance.
Speaking of elegance, not all about Barmark is neat and orderly. The gameplay can be clunky at times, as your wanderer gets stuck somewhere in the lush painted forests. There will also be times where you cluelessly tap the screen, unable to figure out where to go next. But these are minor technical gripes that you'll quickly get used to, and they certainly don't take away from Barmark's immersive pull.
If you're ready for a long walk through this unusual world, hold on for just a week longer. Barmark will be out on Android and iOS come July 31.
- A work of art
- Unorthodox game design
- No pesky monetization schemes
- Not for everyone
- Clunky character movements
- Needs a big screen to be appreciated