Fragments of Him isn’t a game in the traditional sense, let’s get that out of the way right away. It’s essentially an interactive play, telling the story of a man named Will through the eyes of those closest to him. I’m not going to lie, it’s not a happy tale. The opening scene with Will sets the tone for the entire story.
Player interaction is extremely limited as you watch events unfold, though you have the ability to look around each scene before choosing to progress the story. You wander around using the left stick and look around with the right, allowing you to take in the little details of each paused scene, much like being able to walk around inside a photograph. Pressing the A button on items outlined in yellow will move things along, usually via a voiceover from the current character, an animation, or a combination of the two. It’s all very minimalist but it does the job well enough.
That minimalist approach extends to the visuals, too. Again, much like some plays, only the important parts of the environments are lavished with detail. Textures are only really applied to major characters and certain parts of each scene, with the rest looking grey and dull, with the assumption that your eye will be drawn only to the things that are necessary to the story. It’s an age old idea that has served many art forms over the years and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work here – and it does. A few moments aside, I wasn’t left blindly searching for the next progression item. Indeed, the game was designed to be as uncomplicated as possible, so as to keep the story flowing.
Its flow is broken by the constant loading screens, however. They are long and they are many, sometimes even with lingering black screens at the end, making you wonder if the game has crashed. Considering the visuals are quite minimal and the gameplay isn’t exactly revolutionary or backbreaking for the Xbox One, its constant framerate drops also make you question the quality of the port from PC. There’s no consistency in these issues either, as more complicated and busy scenes run at a fairly steady clip, but then a simple one-room scene crumbles under the weight of some hidden force. It’s never game breaking however, probably due to the unhurried nature of the gameplay, but it is noticable.
Unlike other games of this type such as Gone Home or Dear Esther, there’s very little involved in terms of player participation and, as such, there’s almost no reward. This may beg the question: why make it a game at all? It could have been a short film. But that would do a disservice to developer Sassybot’s vision, and it must be said that once the game begins to gather momentum, you’ll realise how ‘being there’ is so much more affecting.
And Fragments of Him is certainly affecting. It does take a while for the story to begin taking shape, to the point that you may question how Will’s grandmother’s story has any relevance to the overall plot, or how it intertwines with his ex-girlfriend’s tale, but it does tie together in the second half. Considering this game is the length of your average movie at around two hours, it’s not exactly a long wait for things to begin making sense, but it does highlight the flaws in the pacing.
Fragments of Him is a very emotional experience, dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one, and much like the recent That Dragon, Cancer, it tells a personal story that will send you on a very emotional ride. You can either dwell on the technical issues, or you can let yourself be drawn in and feel the feelings.
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