0°N 0°W is a kaleidoscopic and atmospheric experience straight from your dreams

by on January 25, 2018

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what to say about this one. It’s a real anomaly. It begins with a timelapse video of a cross-country drive; no explanation or anything to introduce a story. After that, you’re left standing beside your car as the game opens, on a lonely street in a seemingly abandoned town. Soon enough you’ll find yourself standing outside a theatre, with “0°N 0°W” emblazoned upon the sign above the main entrance. Nobody greets you at the door, nobody awaits you at the popcorn stand, nobody sits in the cinema proper; the only thing before you is a screen with a clearly faulty projector, judging by the broken image displayed. Still, the exit below the screen is lit up, so you might as well see what lies that way.

That’s when things get really messed up.

Suddenly, a bright light fills your vision and you’re faced with a scene that feels very Matrix-like. Thousands of doors go rushing by you, stopping as suddenly as they started. The corridor you find yourself in is pitch black, the doors just white outlines like you’re standing inside an old DOS game. Every door is open, leaving you with one simple choice: enter one of the doors.

Okay, I lied before; the really messed up part is just beginning.

The door I picked led me straight to an identical corridor of infinite doors. I picked another door, expecting another corridor to materialise out of the blinding white light. Nope; this time I found myself transported into a pit of blackness, cut through with broken white polygons. It looked a hell of a lot like something you might see when your graphics card is dying.

I kept walking.

Eventually, I ended up inside a low-poly house in the middle of a low-poly desert. The house was unremarkable but cosy, the only place in the entire maze of madness that held some sense of normality. Without a heading or prompt, I wandered out into the desert and didn’t look back. After some time, another flash of light dropped me into another abstract DOS nightmare, aimlessly wandering in the hope that I’d be taken elsewhere at some point soon.

That ‘elsewhere’ turned out to be a high rise apartment made up of neon outlines against a black backdrop. Another DOS-like creation reminiscent of older gaming times. This one felt vaguely Cyberpunk; looking out from the balcony yielded a view of neon-outlined skyscrapers and flashes of neon traffic to complete the look. Strange shapes loomed overhead, blue and red lights creating the illusion of some police presence or other, but nothing reacted to my presence. I wandered down the spiral staircase that encircled the building, eventually falling through to the street below; another nightmare of neon flashes and endless corridors. It was like a labyrinth inspired by Tron.

0°N 0°W constantly changes its environments, as if Colorfiction wanted to keep players in constant motion. But the further down the rabbit hole you go, the more bizarre and seizure-inducing the environments become. I saw the desert house again, only this time it was barely visible in the storm of noise; the Cyberpunk apartment appeared again but this time in monochrome, looking like something from the Daniel Craig film Renaissance.

The whole game is more of an experience than anything else. There are no barriers to your progress (aside from getting lost in labyrinthine, existential nightmares) and the randomised levels ensure that each player will see things differently. Exhibited in the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York, 0°N 0°W is designed for anyone to play and it does feel that way, as there is no threat whatsoever. In fact, there is no violence of any kind.

Perhaps there is a message within the game. Perhaps I could have stayed in that house in the desert, enjoying the peace and quiet while sat on the porch, enjoying the perpetual sunset? Perhaps the increasing insanity of the environments was the game’s way of saying that life is too hectic; that I need to slow down and just enjoy the quiet moments? Or perhaps it’s simply about exploring fantastical and colourful worlds, escaping reality for a short time.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m thinking too much about this.

Either way, 0°N 0°W is an interesting prospect. It’s a treat for the senses, with atmospheric music (seven hours’ worth, I’m told) accompanying the varied and sometimes beautiful visuals. Gameplay is simple, as you walk around with the usual WASD keys, run with Shift and jump with Space, and the mouse lets you look around freely. You can even hold the left mouse button to walk forward, if that’s easier for you or your children. It does feel like it’s designed to be as accessible as possible, though due to its kaleidoscopic visual style on show, 0°N 0°W definitely comes with the most serious of seizure warnings.