The fourth wall is the invisible wall which separates the audience from a performance, whether it be on stage, on television, in movies, or in video games. Breaking the fourth wall is when a performer obliterates the idea of that invisible wall and talks directly to an audience. This is how The Fourth Wall, an indie game for Windows, got its name.
The concept doesn’t affect gameplay, however. What does affect it is messing around with our notions of what is possible within a 2D environment. Screen-wrap or wraparound is a well-known and common gameplay mechanic, but what if we were able to manipulate the effect? The fourth wall in this instance is the player having control of when screen-wrap comes into play.
The Fourth Wall Game
The Fourth Wall game is a deceptively simple platform game that has a lot more to it than you’ll at first realize. It was created by the Pig Trigger team at the DigiPen Institute of Technology, and although it looks a little insipid with its color scheme or black, white, and grays, its gameplay will keep you playing from beginning to end.
You play a wizard who sets out on an adventure as a child and spends his whole life exploring. That doesn’t mean this is an epic Final Fantasy– or Skyrim-style game by an means. In fact, the notion of time passing by is dealt with in a simple and rather beautiful way. You set out as a young boy, with your parents seeing you off on your journey, and by the time you reach the end you’re much older and hopefully wiser.
The Fourth Wall will only take most experienced gamers between 15- and 30-minutes to complete. That is if you don’t get stuck, unsure of what you need to do to progress, on several occasions, as I did. Even if you whizz through it you’ll be glad you played it. The Fourth Wall is certainly an experience, and an addictive one at that.
The Fourth Wall is as simple as they come. The colors are muted and the central character is obvious. The puzzles are tough but never to the point of frustrating. There are no sound effects, instead there is an aural underpinning that sounds like Jean Michel Jarre on acid. It creates the mood and captures the atmosphere perfectly.
Thinking Outside The Box
To succeed at The Fourth Wall you’ll need to think outside the box, both literally and figuratively. Once you reach the screen pictured above you gain the ability to control your environment by turning screen-wrap on or off. The wizard character, that you have become, now has the chance to control his progress through the game. Or at least you do, with a simple press on the ‘Ctrl’ key.
Beyond this point you’ll continually encounter obstacles that are impossible to traverse without the aid of screen-wrap. By positioning yourself at exactly the right spot before pressing ‘Ctrl’ you are able to essentially turn the surrounding area to your advantage, allowing safe passage for the character whose life is now in your hands.
You’ll come up against obstacles aplenty, including lava flows, floating platforms, and troublesome pigs (but not the thieving ones from Angry Birds). All presented to you without any instructions or tutorials. The game is so simple that you instinctively know what you have to do. It’s just a case of managing to do it.
Worth The Effort
You may be wondering if it’s all worth the effort. Can you be bothered playing a game which will tax your gray matter just a little? If you’re a Call Of Duty freak and really just like shooting the shit out of people then perhaps not. For the rest of us, who don’t mind thinking outside the box and partaking in a little problem-solving from time to time, The Fourth Wall is well worth the effort.
I experienced a couple of technical issues with the game crashing, but nothing that proved to be a big problem. And I was taxing my already overworked laptop quite hard at the time. The simple pleasure I derived from the game meant that I merely started the program once more and resumed from my last save point.
The Fourth Wall is the only game I have ever played in which falling from a great height may be the key to progression rather than an action that will lead to an untimely death. And there is something quite enthralling about that changing of the rules that usually govern the mechanics of platformers.
This is one of those indie games that should, when viewed as a collective with other innovative indie games, start to change the gaming industry from within. A little innovation and a spark of creativity can go a long way. I just wish I’d thought of the concept behind The Fourth Wall first.