Roughly 105 years after the publication of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Ovid Works has come out with Metamorphosis, a game inspired by the inspiringly impactful novella. Unfortunately, Gregor Samsa’s psychological adventure in the game pales significantly in comparison to the novella. Kafka’s The Metamorphosis took advantage of every aspect of its medium, which the game utterly blunders at doing. This leads to a distinct lack of fun. Metamorphosis borrows from its novella counterpart both literally and in terms of its acclaim. Just about all other aspects, though, scream mediocrity at best.
Between Grounded, Kill It With Fire, and Metamorphosis, the gaming industry seems to be particularly attracted to the idea of shrinking down to the size of insects. It’s a tremendously interesting concept that explores a different perspective that otherwise may never be experienced. Metamorphosis embraces this quite well. Fists slam on desks that you’re on, making a booming noise. You get nearly eaten after resting on a piece of toast for a moment. The scale is truly brilliant and exciting. The assets are infused with detail to assist in scaling. Everything lying around, such as books, pencils, emery boards, papers, and photos, serve as things to jump on and crawl across. While most games rely on large objects providing the most comprehensive visual and gameplay experience, Metamorphosis flips that on its head and embraces all of the items often considered insignificant in gaming.
It’s a shame that while its concept and perspective was done so well, the developers used it all so poorly. At its core, Metamorphosis explores a mixture the platforming and walking simulator genres. Unfortunately, it largely takes the least fun pieces of both and tries to pass them off as interesting. Jumping from platform to platform is important in platforming games, as the name so obviously suggests, but this is a vague building block that serves as the start of a game’s mechanics. What truly wins awards are the various ways in which you move from platform to platform. Metamorphosis offers one mechanic to accomplish this: sticky substances that help you climb up objects at various angles. Similarly, walking simulators give the most important and boring aspects of the game in the genre’s title: walking. However, every decent walking simulator typically provides some sort of adventure in the form of a narrative in order to keep the engagement of the player, as exemplified in Firewatch and Gone Home. Metamorphosis insists on taking all of the walking and none of the adventure from the genre.
The environments are naturally fascinating, but little of them actually tell any kind of a story that you can get invested in. In the aforementioned walking simulators, you walk as the game tells you a story. In Metamorphosis, you’ll occasionally find a kernel of a story during your endless amounts of crawling from book to book, shelf to shelf, etc. Furthermore, the little bits of narrative crumble under confusion and insufficiency. One-third of the narrative is a comically terrible story about Gregor’s friend Josef, who has been arrested for no reason at all, and I mean that quite literally; one-half of the narrative is Gregor trying to turn himself back into a human, an arc that continually fails to make any sense; and the remaining one-sixth of the narrative is an incomprehensible jumble of society and politics relating to a large network of humans who have turned into bugs like Gregor. Ovid Works put a final nail in the coffin by giving you a choice at the end that feels inconsequential because of the poorly written story that completely disconnects you from the characters.
Catastrophe peaks its head out of every aspect of the plot due to the lack of direction. Is your goal getting to a tower to become a human again, is it saving your friend from a wrongful conviction for… some crime that the writers couldn’t bother themselves to name, or is it helping a cinematographer who has turned into a bug? These points connect in no logical way, yet they’re all treated as integral parts of your adventure. Nothing seems to happen for a reason. At some point, you need a certificate in order to get to the tower. There’s nothing wrong with needing a certificate, but from a storytelling perspective, everything needs to have a purpose. You shouldn’t be able to ask, “Why can’t it be [fill in the blank] instead of a certificate?” If you can ask this, then the certificate is worthless, as is the entire plot surrounding it. Every objective fails this test. It’s painfully obvious that the developers had grand ideas for the different levels and environments, but they had absolutely no clue how to transition between them in a logical manner, leading to a pointless narrative that struggles to keep your attention through the end of the game.
This amounts to a game with just a lot of walking around. An additional hour or so is tacked on from having to have meaningless and overwritten conversations with various bugs, none of whom seem to have any real personality. A good amount of stimulation can still be had from listening to the bugs talk in a strange, gargled language that can almost sound like English if you listen closely. The conversations lose their charm quickly, though, as this strange language and boring dialogue will no doubt give you a headache. By the end, the game feels like a death march towards an ending you never needed or wanted to experience. With such shallow gameplay to back it up, nothing about the game feels particularly fun or clever.
Second to the concept, the best to be said is about the sound design. It certainly can’t compare to your favorite AAA game in this regard, but for the most part, Metamorphosis doesn’t miss a beat with its sound effects. Things can often get quite atmospheric, due largely to the wide array of sounds that envelop your ears when you play with a nice pair of headphones. This can hardly make up for the story and gameplay oversights, but you can view it as a way that the game at least distinguishes itself from other games that fail to do anything unique with their audio.
The mixture of decent sound and a compelling premise with a nonsensical plot and shallow gameplay ends up feeling closer to a bad movie as opposed to even a poorly made game. At least with the movie option, you don’t spend the entirety of the experience carrying the responsibility of occasional platforming and clicking buttons. Metamorphosis fails in everything that truly makes a game fun. However, the tiny glimpses of promise should make for a good jumping-off point for Ovid Works on their next project. They can’t all be winners, and this one certainly isn’t.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A review code was provided by the publisher.
Metamorphosis makes an attempt at a fantastical story based on the premise of Kafka's The Metamorphosis and ultimately falls flat. The plot, characters, and themes aren't communicated properly, making this walking simulator a disaster of a video game.
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.