Originally released for PC back in October of last year, Storm‘s creators IndiePub have already shown themselves to be one of the industry’s good guys by donating a portion of the games’ profits to Hurricane Sandy relief. This is perhaps a somber example of life imitating art – Storm hands the player control of the elements, allowing them to utilise the abilities of the natural world to overcome their obstacles, an ability that would no doubt avert all manner of tragedy were it not confined to the world of gaming.
The objective of Storm‘s 49 levels is to guide a variety of seeds into patches of fertile soil by manipulating various functions of water, lighting and air in tandem with the game’s environments, which are divided to reflect the four seasons, each with their own unique visual style, soundtrack, and feature set. Having access to only three core abilities may seem limiting at first, but the game soon requires the player to combine these powers in a number of interesting ways, both with each other and the 2D environments. At its core, the game is a physics puzzler, although protecting my seed gave me a swell of retro nostalgia for Lemmings in places. The visuals are simple but effective, and are host to a number of nice flourishes, such as the use of water causing droplets to cascade down the screen.
The game’s menu screens, while not having quite the same visual flair as the rest of the package, are functional and intuitive. Hints are given throughout gameplay, though not to the level with which they overburden the player with information. The option is always there to respawn your seed back to the last tree you grew, should you get stuck, or to restart the level entirely. Also appreciated is the option to temporarily speed up time, if, for example, you’re waiting for one of your elements to recharge. Storm appears, on surface level, as a fluid and quirky puzzle game with extremely nice presentation, but it stands out because of its unique emotive qualities.
Storm is at once cerebral without being intense – the visuals, soundtrack and kinesthetics combine to create a truly ambient experience, and even without any sort of narrative direction, it’s easy to feel immediately invested. I first loaded up Storm directly after long sessions playing shooters, and the game’s invitation to aid in the process of creation, rather than take part in destruction, was too inviting to refuse. It’s not often that a game without narrative direction can hold my interest in the way Storm did, but I feel that IndiePub communicate perfectly here without a single line of dialogue or exposition. The opportunity to manipulate the processes of nature appeals to something so primal in the human psyche that a plot is almost irrelevant here – Storm creates meaning through mechanics and art style, subtlety conveying meaning to the player by appealing to something innate, and it works wonderfully. As mentioned before, I occasionally got that same sense of protective duty as anyone who’s ever shed a tear for a lost Lemming will be familiar with, and the fact that in this case, my charge was a nameless, faceless seed should indicate how well Storm invests the player.
Storm‘s biggest issue is perhaps also one of its greatest strengths, and one that caused me to alternate between joy and frustration. The physics here are exceptionally organic, to the point where you won’t always get the same result twice even through attempting the same action. As a depiction of nature, this aspect of the game works beautifully, but as a mechanic in a puzzler that sometimes requires the player to be extremely precise, it has the ability to transform Storm‘s soothing ambiance into feelings of jaded fatigue for the player. Make no mistake – Storm is not an easy game, and though it offers an enjoyable entry level for casual players, there’s definitely enough here for hardcore puzzle fans to sink their teeth into. It’s a shame that not all of this difficulty is directly a result of intentional design, deriving in part from a lackluster physics engine.
Storm’s initial levels do a great job of gently weaving new mechanics into the players skill set, but the game’s artful minimalism can border on the needlessly obtuse in places, and this facet of play can seem at odds with Storm’s overall aesthetic – it looks and sounds like something you’d play to unwind, but you’ll soon realise progression takes serious commitment to the act of soaking up its intricacies, or, to put it another way, it’s a perfect hangover game that might just drive you to drink if you’re not careful.
Still though, Storm‘s issues never stop it from being functional, and it’s a wonderfully realised game in its own right. If you’re looking for a challenging puzzler, or just fancy something with a distinct charm, it’s definitely worth your time.
Storm is available now on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.
- Clever puzzles set against a soothing, ambient backdrop
- Engaging minimalist design and premise
- Occasionally frustrating design choices in regards to physics manipulation and difficulty spikes
- Will require considerable player investment to fully appreciate