All the Delicate Duplicates — A cerebral trip down memory lane

First released in February of 2017, All the Delicate Duplicates is an experimental and non-linear game developed by Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell that takes you into memories that seem ever changing.

All the Delicate Duplicates is disorienting from the start and keeps throwing you curveballs throughout the entirety of the 30 to 90 minute playthrough. The first moments of the game zoom in slowly on a car crash — all the seats are empty, save for cell phones. For the rest of the game, you spend most of your time in an environment that is equal parts dreamscape and domestic household.

As nebulous as the story is, its gameplay is quite straightforward and suited well to a PC. You move around in a first-person perspective using WASD, and you can rotate the camera using the mouse. Essentially, it’s the same sort of barebones setup you’ll recognize in other walking simulators like Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch. The house you explore looks thoroughly lived-in, with personal belongings scattered everywhere, but no one else is home.

A dimly lit bedroom.
A dimly lit bedroom.

In order to piece the narrative together yourself — which truly is the essence of All the Delicate Duplicates, as there is no exposition or explicit instruction — you must examine various objects throughout the household. Much of the story focuses on the protagonist’s relationship with his daughter, which the objects you find sometimes shed light on. Other times, their understanding of each other only become more cryptic. The objects and environment also change across timelines, with several periods in time to explore. As time “progresses,” the house shifts to become more like a dreamscape and less like a recognizable home.

This is a unique and mind-bending experience, but the process of actually unraveling the story leaves something to be desired. While the mystery of the environment and the family formerly inhabiting it is compelling, the narrative is sometimes needlessly opaque and edgy, lacking the sort of full characterization that would further the player’s investment in the protagonist and his predicament. I found myself feeling detached from the father and his daughter most of the time, more interested in the complex storytelling than the story itself. In all, the game lacked heart. Perhaps it was hidden somewhere in the tangled web of clues the developers gave us, but if so, I didn’t find it.

Additionally, there were a number of glitches that interfered with the otherwise fun mechanisms that fuelled the gameplay. Often, these were attached to the laptops or phones lying about the house. Once, upon opening up an in-game laptop, All the Delicate Duplicates crashed, forcing me to start all over again. Other times, a phone screen would display text briefly before turning entirely black. Some such glitches don’t feel entirely inappropriate to the nature of the game, especially since it often looked as if reality itself is glitching, but it seemed that these in particular were unintentional. This added to the difficulty in sympathizing with or caring about the characters involved, since the little information the player receives about them may be further obscured by unintended glitches.

A huge black chess piece looms in a mostly empty room.
This thing scared the shit outta me.

However, the reality-bending premise of All the Delicate Duplicates is strong, and even with some errors, it was deeply satisfying to uncover clues in the small but ever-changing environment. Additionally, I was truly impressed by the ambiance created by the eerie radio segments, lighting and soundtrack. This game is uniquely strange and spooky enough to make me truly fear a large chess piece. The imagery throughout All the Delicate Duplicates is distinct and certainly adds to the mystery of the story, leaving you with plenty to ponder long after the game has ended.

In all, if you’re interested in experimental interactive narratives, All the Delicate Duplicates is well worth your time. But ultimately, if you’re in it for a compelling story, you may find it lacking. There are a great many walking simulators out there with a more straightforward premise and a much stronger story, but All the Delicate Duplicates shines brightest in its odd delivery. It’s not for everyone, but it certainly packs a punch.

All the Delicate Duplicates is available for PC on Steam.

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