Within two minutes of starting to play Expand I seem to have entered into a Zen type state of mind where all sense of time and reality escaped me. Time stood still, I became aware of nothing else around me; it was bliss. . .
Expand is the first project from London-based indie publisher, UKIYO Publishing and bringing it lovingly onto the Playstation 4 has been a masterstroke. Originally released on Steam in 2015 by Chris Johnson and Chris Larkin, Expand met with critical claim then and I am positive that more is to follow.
The game itself is of simple principal – you control a pink square that you have to guide through a multitude of ever changing concentric labyrinths that consistently either expands or contracts, rotates or unfolds dependent on what stage of the maze you are. The 2D world of which the pink square inhabits is mainly a guided experience as there are only really ever two paths (for the most part) for the player to decide on.
There are five main stages set within the world with each testing a particular player skill set – from making sure that you don’t touch edges of the geometric maze that will then set you back to the closest save point, to honing your inner patience to such an extent that you sit and watch for patterns before making an ever faithful (and often frustratingly bad) dart for the maze exit. One of the biggest frustrations that I found was the issue of trying to navigate a geometric shape through a spherical world but it is with this frustration that the beauty of the gameplay comes; it’s in the simplistic ideal that is so basic to us as players that harnesses the infuriation to want to continue and beat the maze.
To save too much frustration there are very regular automatic save points along the way, which gradually get further apart depending on how far into one of the particular five stages the player gets, although you are never really more than ten seconds previous playing away. There are much more tests of reflexes rather than puzzle solving which I’d quite like to have been evened out but that’s only a small niggle.
The other part of the game (and by this I mean in equal measure) is its beautiful soundtrack that even from the beginning reaches out to you, envelops you and holds you close. A constant changing of beautifully calming music scores puts you into a calming meditative state that manages to focus your attention solely on the game and in the other hand manages to block out the rest of the outside world – both children and partner were ignored as I sat with my headphones in (as recommended by the developer) whilst I lost the best part of three hours which it took to complete Expand.
The game itself is stunningly put together with the simple yet creative graphics moving forever in harmony depending on where your pink square is on the map. An ever evolving screen of black and white spaces as well as objects suddenly seems like the only thing that you would ever want to look at again, with the slight introduction of basic colours to mark hazards welcome.
An extremely sharp and highly polished game, this emotionally insightful and meditative example of just how brilliant a basic game can be is fantastic. The soundtrack becomes part of the game and not an extra – it is with care and attention of matching the score to the maze that truly makes this stand out amongst other indie titles.
Apart from a few personal frustrations with the game with my own lack of skill, I really can’t fault it much; after playing it I wished there had perhaps been slightly more to do but I think that in itself is what makes this what it is – I could easily turn it on again and lose another three hours of my life quite happily.