To call NaissanceE just a “game” would be a disservice to it. It’s an exploration of light and value, an abstracted treatise on loneliness and silence, and an experiment with architecture and puzzles.
My favorite aspect of this title is how well it maintains a “spacious claustrophobia”. The game shifts among moderately sized rooms, tiny spaces, vast expanses, and extreme heights that can elicit an acrophobic response (fear of heights). I would love to play this game on Oculus Rift for sure. The size relation according to the player’s movement and perspective/value shift effectively convey the monstrous spaces and architecture. But what creates the dichotomy of “spacious claustrophobia” is that, despite the looming heights and open spaces, there’s a ceiling – the player can only guess what this ceiling is part of. Later on this contrast is intensified in the desert chapter. The spaces and architecture create an enormous feeling contained within a very claustrophobic feeling.
On top of all that, there are all these buildings and objects and strange machines, but where are the inhabitants? The world is empty of any kind of sentient creature (except perhaps the host...perhaps). This compounds the odd feeling of "spacious claustrophobia” and lends to a constant sense of unease and creepiness.
Graphically the game is gorgeous. Fantastic value combos and muted color schemes add to the game’s atmosphere. There are too many opportunities for screenshots. Most of the textures in the game are smooth, but they blend perfectly with the other aspects.
There’s a lot of music in this game, but also plenty of silence. The selection of music is very appropriate, many eclectic tracks and many selections from Deep Listening by Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, and others. I actually picked up the Deep Listening CD as a result of the game, and also discovered some of Dempster’s other meditative work. The times of silence in the game are poignant and at times downright crushing. Play the game in a quiet place with no background noises and the silence in the game will definitely assault the ears.
Mechanics involve mostly running and jumping. There’s no “interaction button”, but walking into lights and cubes sometimes triggers environmental reactions. Running includes a breathing button-press mechanic, which must be timed properly to be able to run without trouble. This is important in later parts of the game where the player must continue to run without interruption or die. Speaking of dying and reloading, there's a lot of that at times, which occasionally becomes a mild irritation.
As to the meaning of the game…the developer states on the game’s website that it’s open-ended and intended to be looked at through different perspectives. For me, the game is about the cyclical nature of life: run, run, look where to go, look how to go, look when to go, run some more, get pushed and pulled by various forces, experience all the different values of emotions, run some more, and then rinse and repeat. Overall, an oddball gem that will hammer a stake into your mind if you let it. An easy 10/10 for those who want a surreal experience.