Particulars is an adventure/puzzle arcade-style game hailing from none other than the country/continent/Vegemite factory that is Australia. A land where it’s warm and sunny during Christmas, and every insect is out to kill you with a single bite. The video game industry has taken off fairly well over there in recent years and Particulars is a commendable piece of gaming that falls comfortably under the category of new age alternative interactive art experiences. That’s a made up term by the way, but Particulars exhibits a successful marriage between old school gameplay goodness with more sophisticated presentation values, portraying a tragic psychological drama embedded in a science fiction conspiracy, all situated within a arcade-style puzzle game which has its design and mechanics fueled by particle physics.
At its core, Particulars is a gauntlet of bite sized levels that hark back to the action/puzzle arcade game conventions of the ‘80s and even the late ‘70s. You’re presented with nearly a hundred levels, but as you progress through these unique stages the normal course of gameplay is punctuated by story sequences. It’s a fairly long game featuring a variety of different levels with each presenting unique objectives and mechanics. There are some consistent patterns and styles that become apparent after some time, but the level design is never repetitive.
Particulars tells the story of a young physicist named Alison who isn’t portrayed in a conventional manner. Before the start of each stage you’re presented with a quote regarding Alison coming from her family, friends, colleagues, therapists and occasionally you’ll get citations from famous psychologists and books. The purpose of these quotes is to delve into personality and background of Alison, and these are presented in a seemingly random and disjointed order, which makes things vague but at the same time it’s enough to pique your curiosity and keep you going.
Being mindful of these quotes is part of the experience, as they essentially serve as pieces in a puzzle, and the more quotes you’re presented with the clearer the story becomes. After a certain number of levels the main action is punctuated by extended cinematic sequences that use stylistic animation stills to add more to the plot. You see a young girl as she approaches a strange arcade cabinet of sorts, within which she finds the very same game that you as the player will sit through. Although not apparent at first, this arcade game involving subatomic particles plays an important role in the story. The story overall is emotionally charged, exploring some dark themes and blindsiding the player with some discerning revelations.
As a game Particulars is a simplistic, and yet highly challenging and varied puzzle game that is heavily based on particle physics. In its many levels you take control of a single a quark particle and interact with a number of other subatomic particles to complete various distinct objectives. There’s neutrons, electrons, protons, and everything else in between. It is pretty thorough about its subatomic shenanigans, and what’s cool is that the behavior of these particles, and the core mechanics, follow scientific theories and rules pretty closely… or so it claims. But you can choose to verify this within the game, as it provides an extensive compendium of sorts which details the nature of all the particles in terms how they interact with each other. The compendium also cites numerous academic sources for extensive reading on particle physics.
Mechanically, Particulars isn’t as simple as you would think, the primary quark particle you control has some interesting physics that need a bit of time and skill to get accustomed to. For the most part it’s very easy to build up a lot of speed and lose control, so it’s really all about learning how to keep the quark under control and not get overwhelmed by its momentum. Level objectives involve colliding with particles to cause a reaction, some involve surviving and navigating through restricted paths (like the basic atom models you saw in high school science), and basically working with particles in interesting ways to complete some cool situation-based puzzles.
This game actually gets pretty challenging, which is why the developers threw in an option to skip levels with no limitations and restrictions on its usage. This is a bit of a downer as it may take away from the incentive of sticking with a level until you master it, since there is an appealing alternative of just jumping ahead. Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing trend in modern gaming.
Particulars combines an interesting and highly progressive style of narration with an old school arcade experience. The gameplay itself, however, is just as sophisticated and progressive as its presentation because particle physics play a huge part in the overall design and core mechanics. It’s is a different style of game with a bevy of levels to get through, but unfortunately, it felt it had the need to give players the option to skip ahead without consequence, rather than showing confidence in the progressive and rewarding difficulty of the levels. That said, Particulars is worth checking out for its unique take on storytelling and for providing a classic arcade game experience that is quite literally, intelligent by design.