The interactive experience has found its niche within the firmament of video games, even if it still retains the less favourable name of ‘walking simulator’. It remains inherently limited with regard to game mechanics, which is its primary distinction from traditional adventure games. However, this limitation comes with great artistic freedom, and few games highlight this better than Beckett, developed by The Secret Experiment and published by KISS Ltd.
Beckett puts you into the role of the eponymous Beckett, a private investigator. A woman named Daisy Starlight tasks you with finding her son, but the game is more than a missing-persons mystery. Beckett struggles not only with the case, but with his own past — his dead wife Amy in particular.
For the most part, the game is presented in a top-down perspective. Beckett moves to fixed spots in whatever location you are currently in and can examine various points of interest or talk to people. You have a limited amount of freedom. Talking and examining is often optional, with the exception of a couple of hotspots that need to be explored to progress the story.
Everything in Beckett is abstract. The entire game looks like a collage of various snippets of pictures and photographs. Beckett himself is represented by a portrait, but most other people take the shape of animals, often insects and crustaceans. A city official looks like the tomographic (cross-sectional) image of a brain and the head of a mental institute resembles a spider-like robot.
The world Beckett is set in is sad and depressing — dystopian, even. Few details are spelt out, but we get to know that Beckett lives in a neighbourhood named Borough in an unnamed city. Most people, Beckett himself included, are miserable. Some aspect, like the treatment of mental health patients, indicates that the game is set during the interbellum or the 1950s, but it is ultimately left unclear.
Beckett explores many themes, among them ageing, loneliness, urban decay, mental health and authoritarianism. Beckett himself is a sad figure with traits of a film noir protagonist, or someone who used to be one. He is as depressing as the game itself, and sometimes as repulsive as its stylistic choices.
Said choices are not pretty, and nor are they supposed to be. The world of Beckett is filthy and grimy. Its characters are sometimes gross and disgusting, which makes them feel like actual people, for better or worse. The previously mentioned insect theme is omnipresent. At one point Becket even plants a bug in a person’s home — while indeed a listening device, the bug is an actual grub. Anyone who suffers from entomophobia should stay away from this game.
Despite being primarily an interactive story with almost no puzzles, Beckett has a couple of minigame-like sequences, but they are few and far between and never feel disruptive. However, the game is ultimately a linear affair. You can roam in whatever location you are currently in, but said location will always be small and it is just a matter of time until you talk to the right person and progress to the next chapter.
The closest thing Beckett has to traditional adventure game puzzles are some labyrinthine locations with multiple pathways and various things to examine. Nevertheless, you are unlikely to get lost even in these: you can only move between hotspots or to map exits, all of which are generally indicated.
But puzzles are not what Beckett is about. It is about accompanying Beckett on his way, about learning more of his past, which in turn makes it clear how he approaches things. This involves quite a bit of reading. Apart from a small number of cutscenes — often using old film reel footage — Beckett is not voiced, and the clues and hints the game presents the player with can be quite text-heavy.
Beckett is a powerful experience for those willing to dive into it. If you do not mind games that might make you uncomfortable and don’t have a weak stomach, give it a try. It shows that a game has to be neither happy nor accommodating to be rewarding.