Starting up Degrees of Separation, I was filled with so much hope. Like that moment you first arrive at home affairs to see only five people waiting only to be told that’s the line for enquiries. Turns out, passport renewal is around the corner, its queue snaking outside of the building like the World Serpent. What initially starts out as an experience filled with joy and possibility eventually sours into a tedious plod where even the gorgeous visuals aren’t enough to save to the journey. What do you mean your home affair doesn’t have gorgeous visuals? There’s nothing wrong with my metaphor, your municipality is just unattractive.
Degrees of Separation is a couch co-op puzzle platformer where players will assume the roles of Ember and Rime. Driven from their respective worlds of warmth and cold, our two heroes must venture forth into the unknown to answer the question of…something. Look, I’ll be honest I didn’t quite know what the plot of this game was. What could be interpreted as a tranquil tale of togetherness and teamwork just didn’t work for me. For a good while there’s no urgency, no stakes in their adventure and the writing devolves into characters being “intoxicated by every victory” or just wanting to look into each other’s’ eyes. At best the writing can be heavy handed, and at worst it’s groan inducing. What starts out as a whimsical fairy tale peters out very how many scarves can I collect as I lost all investment in the characters and their plights.
To further explore the world, Ember and Rime must collect scarves that are scattered around each level. To reach them they must solve a variety of logic puzzles with the gimmick of the screen constantly being split in two with either half having the properties of hot and cold. It’s a novel idea, especially when the developers start experimenting with the idea of separation that is often felt when two players are controlling characters on the same screen. Without spoiling anything, the shifting line used to divide the screen is used in some highly creative and innovative ways that, from a mechanical perspective, I really enjoyed before the novelty wore off, Yet despite this creativity, the game always boils down to the same objective: Collect the scarves. The experience becomes tedious quickly, made worse by some odd pacing choices, with some puzzles proving exceptionally easy and others frustratingly imprecise and convoluted. Once Ember and Rime have unlocked more abilities, there’s some light backtracking to collect previously unreachable scarves, further messing with the pacing.
The game’s greatest strength is undoubtedly the visual flair that many artists clearly poured a lot of soul into. The game shines with bright colours, and beautifully rendered environments. While I didn’t care for the character models, the backgrounds of each stage truly pop, made even better by the constant switching of warm orangey hues for Ember and cool blues for Rime. It’s strikingly gorgeous, even if it feels like some of the environments are merely reskins of the same forest that crops up often in the early game.
It should go without saying but this game is built to be played with someone else. While I did play a good portion with my girlfriend, I spent most of my time playing alone. Playing solo is annoying to say the least. While it’s simple to switch between characters and call the AI player to follow you, it’s not exactly Skynet in it’s intelligence. My progress was often halted by the AI running into a small ledge or trying to jump a wall when a climbable rope was just behind them. Perhaps these occasions were just bugs, but they occurred frequently enough to be irritating.
Although without a doubt the most frustrating aspect of this game is how long I spent playing it. Not because it was an incredibly long experience, or because I was drawn to collect all the scarves. Degrees of Separation, in what I can only assume was an act of sheer starvation, ate my save data. Twice. Forced to restart the game on two occasions admittedly left a sour taste in my mouth and I can only hope this crash is something the developers plan on fixing for all future players of the game.
Ultimately, this game commits what I consider the biggest sin in entertainment: It’s boring. All the beautiful art and inventive mechanics in the world can’t save Degrees of Separation from being an experience that just isn’t fun to play. For me, DoS is the equivalent of a restaurant menu. On paper, the food looks great. You can’t wait to bite down into the tender sirloin you ordered because it just looked so good in the picture. And that sauce? You’ve never tried that before! But when it arrives, it’s just a middling bit of meat. To salvage your dinner, you stare at the gorgeous meal in the picture, trying to trick yourself into tasting that image, but deep down you’re just a little disappointed it didn’t amount to much more.
Last Updated: February 28, 2019