A Zen Experience, or a rage-inducing one? The game Expand, I found, can be both. While not overly hard, the game can punish you in the hardest of ways for a simple mistake, but clearing a stage can end up giving you the most awesome of feelings.
Expand was originally developed for PC by two guys, both called Chris funnily enough, and originally released September 30th, 2015, now ported to PS4! This game is a hard one to explain, the art style is incredibly simple, black, white, red and pink. It has a very minimalist style but its effect is brilliant, the pink square that you control is moved around a circular labyrinth that’s always changing but is slightly familiar at the same time.
The joy of this small game is that there is precisely zero loading time (none of that waiting for an age for the game to load, not naming any names *cough* GTA *cough*), you move all the way from the start screen, controlled by your little pink square, straight into the game, loading into your previous save without even the realisation that there was anything before it. The experience is completely seamless.
The next thing that is obvious, the music is stunning, its amazingly well written and only adds to the experience. The game does shout at you, right at the beginning of the game to use headphones while playing. But here’s my only problem with this game. It has been brought to the PS4. Most people have their console connected up the main TV in the house. Unless they plan on sitting two feet from the TV, it is seriously impractical to use headphones. It is possible to still enjoy the effect of the music but it’s nowhere near as strong as if you’re sitting in front of your PC with headphones on. The best alternative is probably to hope you have some good speakers on your TV or to connect up to a sound bar or Hi-Fi system in the same room.
Despite this downfall, the game is still stunning. The game, underneath everything, is defiantly a puzzle game. While the puzzles can be simple, they can easily bring you into a rage likened to that caused by the impossible game or rage quit. Even when the solution is simple, a single mistake, or taking too long on a sector can reset you back a long way which is more than enough to bring the stress levels up.
The control system is simple to learn, your only controls are on the left joystick with an optionally inverted y-axis on the D-Pad. There are options to remap the controls but in this port there largely useless, a far more useful feature for the PC version.
As I mentioned before, the game is small. After an initial tutorial that uses very little text to tell you how to play it seamlessly sends you into the main game. It is based on 5 separate levels, any of which can be assessed at any point. The game makes you travel around a circle that eventually unlocks a door. This door then takes you to what I can only describe as an extra set of small tutorial missions that will prepare you for the main challenge of the level, each level gets incrementally harder. Pushing you to become better and more precise with your movements. I recall going through a section where I kept messing up on the very last part of a sector before the autosave; an example of the way the game can induce rage.
Despite the rage it’s caused, I love this game, it’s simple and disorientating and therapeutic and confusing and charming. The game has managed to be a form of distraction from things that I needn’t worry about and I think that’s one of its best features. It can just drag you in and engulf you for hours at a time. But the game never stays the same, the game likes to throw new situations at you, it’s easy to embrace and gives great satisfaction once the sector is cleared.
I strongly recommend getting this game. It’s an experience that you won’t want to miss. I’m giving this game a rating of 8/10.
The game is available digitally from the European and US PlayStation stores from the 3rd of October.