This Portal inspired gem is a wonder in the making
all scores are out of ten
Can’t afford to purchase a drone? Is committing to a lifetime of populating Mars just too much for you? Got an itch for puzzles? Then Indistinct Chatter’s latest extravaganza is the game for you!
Into The Maze is being developed by the incredibly talented Nadav Hekselman, a 39-year-old award winning film-maker and cinematographer who has worked in both the Israeli film industry and with platforms such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
He has been credited as a cinematographer on movies such as Roads, Mermaids, False Flag and Funeral at Noon. He started the company, Indistinct Chatter, in 2019 and so Into The Maze is the studios very first game but Hekselman has worked on various titles using Unreal Engine in the past.
Into The Maze feels incredibly smooth, almost too smooth, not that it’s a negative. On the contrary, that slick feel, whilst odd, makes the experience reminiscent of an old Source game like Portal or Half-Life, resulting in a rich nostalgic pastime.
Perhaps that isn’t coincidence, either, as Hekselman exclusively revealed to The Cross Button that Portal was actually one of the inspirations behind the game. The puzzle aspect definitely has that old Valve feel and if this title was made just over a decade ago, this is definitely the kind of thing that they would have swooped up.
This extends to the ways in which you interact with the environment and the ways the controls handle and, whilst I hate to ‘drone’ on about how much it reminds me of these classic FPS games, that nostalgia is incredibly important to note because it was a major hook.
The puzzles themselves are not ridiculously complex or overly complicated but they are still entertaining. The simplest of things feel oddly rewarding, despite not being gigantic brain-teasers that take serious thought to crack. The way in which the game is built simply makes progression feel like accomplishment which is a treat.
The art-style leans more towards the cartoon-y side due to it being low-poly but character models and designs feel realistic in their depiction which lends its hand to the more serious atmosphere of the game. It’s a nice change of pace from the various low-budget 3D games on the market that have jaw-droppingly terrible graphics.
The Martian landscape evokes a similar feeling to films such as The Martian whilst the more sci-fi elements feel rich with 60s/70s inspiration, exaggerating the game’s nostalgic feel, making it feel like a worthy entry into the genre.
As Nadav is a cinematographer (and an impressively good one at that), the overall design of Into The Maze is awe-inspiring. Visually, the Martian landscape is incredibly orange which is a given but what he manages to do with the lighting, the fog and the landscapes in the distance helps to craft that uneasy sense of isolation and loneliness in spite of the simplistic colour palette.
As for the actual underground facility? It’s oddly clean and slick with futuristic elements but it has an ancient feel to its design, like its from a civilisation centuries ahead of their time. I’m not particularly well-versed in the game’s story but if that is the intent, it has really shun through.
Modern games tend to throw far too much at the player at once. Even critically acclaimed works such as The Witcher 3 suffer from this but they get brownie points for customisation. However, Into The Maze has next-to-nothing on the screen apart from the controls which hopefully can be switched off in the final product.
Beyond the reticle in the centre of the screen, there’s not much to look at which means that you can well and truly take in the environments around you and immerse yourself fantastically. Not having a lot of elements to the user-interface works spectacularly for this title.
The current score is a placeholder, taken from Annihilation, but in a livestream, Nadav Hekselman said that he’s using this music to give inspiration to the composer so that they can create something that evokes a similar atmosphere.
The art-style and visuals combined with the simplistic user-interface crafts the distinct atmosphere of isolation but the icing on the cake that brings it all full circle is the incredible score.
The eerie yet beautiful music is alien and solitary, perfectly complimenting the game’s impressively designed Martian world. It has that feeling of horror but it is also peaceful and relaxing. Hopefully the final score can reflect that same feeling.
Into The Maze – 8.25 / 10
– Reviewed on PC
– stunning visuals
– rewarding puzzles
– smooth gameplay
– stellar score
– the demo wasn’t long enough
Developers: Indistinct Chatter