Who am I? How did I get here? How do I work this? What is an enemy? What is a friend? Where am I going? Where does it end? Is there a place in the world for a surrealist, first person rogue-like shooter? These questions will stalk your metaphysical quest that is POLYGOD. Nothing is easy in a nightmare. But is it worth it?
As the unusual visuals may have given away thinking outside the box is absolutely necessary. This is no regular first-person shooter. There are no terrorists or criminals to kill, the enemies take the form of abstract entities. Procedurally generated levels are built from a unique code string. This can lead to massive changes each time you boot up POLYGOD.
There are no major story cutscenes and no real instructions. Upon selecting your level code string and sitting through a mildly lengthy loading screen you are dumped into a polygonal world of your involuntary making. At any time you can save a code string to come back to and replay again. There are also daily code strings put out by the developers so that all the Blesseds around the world can have a universally similar experience.
At first, before your mind has grasped what POLYGOD is about, you will have little understanding of what is a killable target and what is just a part of the harmless pea landscape. Starting off with only a generic character, (Faceless the Blessed) who in appearances is hugely reminiscent of the familiar Gentleman’s Toilet Sign Man you are incredibly vulnerable armed with only a gun with the strength of a worn out pea shooter. This is never precisely explained but your mission is to wander through the procedurally generated sandbox levels defeating enemies, collecting their souls and health.
“One must picture everything in the world as an enigma, and live in the world as if in a vast museum of strangeness.” – Giorgio de Chirico
Souls are the currency of the game and are meant to be spent on Blessings that are the standard character upgrades or augments. These may increase your speed but lower your health, give your gun vampiric abilities, double jump or any number of stackable upgrades. Everything comes at a cost while enhancing something often another feature nerfed. Rarely while exploring the randomly generated areas of play you may encounter a golden statue that requires an offering. If you give these statues the correct sacrifice you will unlock another character, with stats unique from the vanilla starting character Faceless the Blessed.
*Spoiler Warning* No matter the Stat upgrade the other Faceless may offer, make sure you complete the game with Faceless the Blessed, at least once, as this is the only way to unlock the Faceless the God (indisputably the best character to play as). *Spoilers End*
Until you augment your gun the bullets have an infinite trajectory which helps with primitive sniping. There is no reloading and you can hold down the fire button and fire forever. This is no sound strategy and will lead to frustrating deaths time after time. It almost felt like cheating once I realized I could use the landscape to my advantage, my tactics changed completely. I started to sneak around, hiding out on top of the walls, blasting Dadaist, enemies with my ever-evolving gun and stealing their souls. Once you come to the end point of a level (a glowing doorway) you are presented with a Lovecraftian boss. These often begin with particularly generic and derivative aesthetics but soon their gimmicks and become their own idiosyncratic entities.
“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.” – Rene Magritte
Drawing aesthetic and philosophical inspiration from the venerable twentieth-century surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico, specifically his Metaphysical Town Square works, POLYGOD never aims to answer questions and only asking its own. The NPCs you meet on your bizarre quest rarely take anything close to human form, ranging from an eyeball with wings chained to the floor all the way to a giant totem pole being. It took me a while to realize what I had to kill any what was there to offer aid. Soon I found a simple method to that helped me to understand; friends are the ones presenting philosophical debates and enemies are the ones delivering bullet hell waves of fatal artillery fire.
“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” – Salvador Dali
While not always the most beautiful or easy to look at, the world of POLYGOD is a bizarre and compelling one, built on many bold creative choices. Some may not have completely paid off but this unconventional game undoubtedly has many unique features. POLYGOD has an option rarely seen on a console release; the ability to toggle all of the in-game model’s outlines on or off. With this function turned off the limited color palettes blend many objects’ textures into each severely hampers your ability to perceive your surroundings and the low polygon graphics become even hard to intuit. Also while the controls are incredibly simple, the developers have made some very confusing decisions; there are only buttons for movement, looking around, interacting, shooting and jumping. Sounds simple enough right? But what’s the deal with having button layout mapping that cannot change especially when to bring up the pause menu you have to press the B button?
With infinite nightmarish landscapes and lots of tense gun battles that quickly lead to game overs POLYGOD is almost an amalgamation of LSD: Dream Emulator, Jumping Flash, Killer 7 and the Bonanza Bros. promotional art. This may sound like fantastical praise but comparisons like this are worthless, one of my favourites is on the front cover of UK edition of the Super Mario Bros The Original Motion Picture videotape, that stinker is hilariously described in a quote from the Daily Mail as “Hilarious & Exciting – A cross between Indiana Jones, Blade Runner & Star Wars”.