Developers: Michael Brough, Jasper Byrne, Terry Cavanagh, Jake Clover, Alan Hazelden, Jack King-Spooner, Richard Perrin, Benn Powell, Ian Snyder, TheBlackMask, Robert Yang and Zaratustra.
Experiment 12 is, as the name suggests, experimental in nature. As a ‘chain’ game, it’s the result of a collaboration between twelve indie developers, including Super Hexagon‘s Terry Cavanagh and Lone Survivor‘s Jasper Byrne. Each has crafted their own chapter in the series, creating a sequence of short games that piece together a dark and brilliant puzzle.
At the helm of this supergroup is Cavanagh, the organising force behind the project and the first link in the chain. From the outset, the atmosphere is discerning, and the immediate theme of mental illness is unsettling. The status indicator declares that you, a pixelated protagonist, are unwell and the obstacles you encounter in this side-scroller only serve to increase the severity of this sickness.
Who are you? This is for the eleven remaining developers to decide, as they each take inspiration from the preceding level, while continuing the plot as they choose. This disjointed narrative continues in a fragmented manner as you progress through a bizarre tale. Insights into the protagonist are brief and ambivalent. Shifting viewpoints introduce various other characters, and the player is often uncertain as to who they are controlling.
Any chapter can be played at the onset. It’s suggested, however, to experience them in chronological order, to help pick out the thin narrative thread, which weaves in different directions as it is manipulated by the various developers.
Despite the clear connections one can make, the game refuses to be completely coherent; choosing instead to keep the player guessing as if we are the experiment. Any meaning is hidden behind a veil of inconsistent and disjointed monologue, with some levels seemingly devoid of significance.
The myriad of various aesthetics renders each chapter a showcase of creativity. The graphics are usually abstract and minimalistic, with the approach ranging from hand-drawn to strong pixel work. Most levels are visually hallucinatory, adding to the overwhelming sense of disorientation.
Given the time constraints, each level was made in 72 hours or less, the result is sometimes flawed, with Chapter 7 being particularly disappointing. Some moments are downright baffling, and the ending, though climactic, leaves much to question.
Oddly enough, the loose ends and lack of polish add to the raw charm and fascinating experience Experiment 12 provides. There are plenty of contradictions and an almost frustrating level of mystery shrouding the narrative, but the obvious lack of answers renders the game even more brilliant.
The very nature of it is to be puzzling, with concrete meaning beyond the grasp of anyone; even the twelve creators.