InFlux is a surprisingly soothing game. Maybe it’s the blue hue and light emanating from the metal sphere that serves as the player avatar in the game. Perhaps it’s the contrasting solitary island and white room spaces. It might even be the environmentally appropriate music of ambient synths. In truth, it’s probably a combination of all these things plus the fact that obstacles are puzzles instead of enemies that give this indie game its tranquil feel.
Developed by Impromptu Games, InFlux is a game that places players in the role of an extraterrestrial ball that is exploring a jungle environment where abandoned villages are juxtaposed against glass-heavy enclosures that seem taken out of Portal. The narrative framing of the game is minimal to non-existent. In the couple of hours I played of the preview version of the almost finished game the only words were the ones delivered in the tutorials. It’s fitting though, as the game seems to be telling what little story it has through the world. Rolling around in the lush place, two encounters come to mind. The first was coming upon some canoes left on the shores of an inlet. While I had already encountered vacated huts, the sense of desertion didn’t quite hit me until I saw these inhabitants’ means of transportation left behind. What happened to them?
The second encounter was seeing the refuse of civilization left around the cube-based, glass buildings that dot the island. A fire and a bench was set up under a protruding section of the building while a ladder leaned against another, indicating that someone was either using the elevated position as a lookout point or attempting to satiate their curiosity by examining a different part of the structure. It’s a curiosity that probably feels similar to what you are feeling, as I’ve yet to describe exactly what goes on in the game; let me help with that.
As you can imagine, controlling the sphere feels very much like one would expect, with its own momentum acting as a force to consider while moving around. In addition, the ball has the ability to attract and repel objects, and propel itself forward with a boost. The game is split into jungle and puzzle-room environments. The former is designed as a wide tunnel, where players can explore branching paths but are ultimately forced back onto a critical path that leads them to the next puzzle. The world is sprinkled with tiny orbs that look like fireflies which can be attracted to the sphere, causing the orbs to follow the sphere until used up. “Jungle” environment is meant to be a broad label, as players end up moving not only through forested lands, but underground caverns as well. As I described earlier, this area allows for players to form their own narrative to explain why this place is of interest, but not much more than that. It’s not a knock against the game though- the narrow scope is not so enclosed that it feels small, but not so large that I ever got lost.
The other environment is the glass structure, where the game’s puzzles play out. Each building has at its entrance a post where players automatically deposit the blue orbs picked up from the environment when in proximity to it. Once a certain number of orbs are placed inside, a liquid-like wall shimmers and players can enter and complete the puzzle inside to progress forward. For those who know the reference point, the rooms can be pictured like a less byzantine version of those plastic cube mazes which held a ball bearing. For those who don’t, the rooms are full of thin walls in every which direction. Panels on the floor can be pressed to roll the room around, allow access to different areas of the place and make floors of walls and ceilings of floors. But while the goal may be to exit the room, the design isn’t quite a maze.
The goal of each puzzle is to take a colored orb (or two) and place it in a small cube. It sounds simple enough, but the challenge comes in manipulating the orb with the attract and repulse power to line it up with an ever shifting gravity. It’s hard to discern whether my opinion of the puzzles’ difficulty is affected by the fact that I just recently played through the brutal The Bridge– which also consisted of manipulating spheres and gravity- or my short time with the game didn’t give a chance for them to ramp up in complexity, but I didn’t find the challenges particularly hard. I found that running through the room and examining it by myself once easily prepared me to pick up the orbs and take them to their location. This is unfortunate because while the aesthetic elements of InFlux are very well done, I don’t think they have enough pull to excuse simple puzzles. I really hope later rooms are more elaborate, as spatial problems are a particular favorite of mine and this game already has so much going for it.
While I was let down by the ease of the puzzles, InFlux’s light exploration, pleasing music and visual design all have me interested in playing more. You can catch more of the game yourself when it comes to Windows, Mac and iOS this year. You can also get the game onto Steam’s distribution service by voting for it on its Steam Greenlight page here.