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Review: Motion Sickness and Pseudo Profundity Abound in What Happened

Screenshot: What Happened

More and more games are focusing on the effect of mental health issues. I still hold up Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice as one of the best examples of a game highlighting specific mental health issues while still being a fun game and one that is more than just a showcase of those disorders. There aren’t many games that deal with mental health issues and drug use, and I was excited to try out What Happened specifically for that reason.

What Happened is a first person depression, psychosis and LSD simulator. It was billed as survival horror, but there are few elements that are straight horror. You play as high school student Stiles—someone who loves to take LSD as a coping mechanism for what he experiences in the world around him. The entire time, you’re accompanied by Stiles’ inner thoughts, constantly taunting Stiles as he makes his way through one dream-like vignette to another.

Screenshot: What Happened

What Happened actually does a number of things well in regards to mental health. This is the first game where a character extensively “self-medicates” to cope with the world around him. There are moments where you play in a sort of third-person mode, where you watch yourself performing actions in a way that is extremely illustrative of dissociated feelings. Some of the visuals are great to illustrate the exact feelings you have when you’re suffering from severe mental trauma, including feeling like you’re trapped underwater—something that is used a few times throughout.

But for everything good What Happened does, there are gameplay and graphical elements that make it not a very good game.

Screenshot: What Happened

Main character Stiles is obviously tortured, so much so that he takes loads of LSD to cope. The only problem is, the hallucinogenic nature of the game makes it nigh unplayable. The camera is constantly shifting, bobbing, and sometimes even spinning. I could not play What Happened for more than a few minutes at a time for fear of getting motion sick. And I did get motion sick at least a couple of times, causing me to have to take an extended break just to get another chance to get back into it.

What Happened isn’t just uncomfortable to play—it’s torturous. There are no settings to ease this either. No head-bob off, or any way to lessen the visual effects. There were encounters that were completely innocuous, where I would be looking for an item in a room to progress, only for the camera to relentlessly shake from side-to-side like Stiles was on a ship in gale force winds.

Screenshot: What Happened

What I managed to see of the puzzles and gameplay, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. Many of the ways you interact with the world rely on a type of moon logic. I couldn’t even get off of the toilet to start the game, because I didn’t understand that you had to interact with all of the toilet graffiti first.  Most of the puzzles involve looking until you find an item, or interacting with light bulbs. There aren’t any enemies to fight, really, though there are a few “chase sequences” where you are forced to run helplessly.

I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for Stiles, beyond his obvious problems. It doesn’t help that the story seems to be non-linear. In fact, I could get what was happening in Stiles’ life to an extent, but I couldn’t exactly figure out what order anything was happening in.

Another cardinal sin committed by What Happened is its lack of menu. When you start the game, you’re forced to move your character around to doors that represent the options for new game and continue–even options and exit. The options menu is sparse, and doesn’t allow for control remapping. And if you want to change settings mid-game, you have to quit to main menu, watch as Stiles’ wakes up in the menu room, and you have to run to the options menu and open the door. My controls were messed up in the beginning, and at one point I got trapped in the options room with no escape. Since the exit room was in another area, I couldn’t even exit the game without force quitting. Absolutely hellish.

Another issue was that I had to go in and add a command line so the game wouldn’t start in VR mode by default. The fact that the developer seems to have been aiming for VR made the menu make more sense, but the thought of this game being in VR makes me fear for the amount of motion sickness it can induce.

Screenshot: What Happened

What Happened is otherwise well put together. The production values seem okay. The graphics are okay, and the art direction is solid—but the voice acting is incredibly uneven. Some characters that were having conversations with each other felt like they were doing reads that weren’t even on the same continent, with vastly different tones. Some of the writing is pretty good, while other bits of it are extremely uneven, too. For every moment that I felt like I connected with the main character’s issue, there was a moment of pseudo-profundity or ribbing from Stiles’ mind that would take me out of it due to corniness.

I forced myself to play What Happened past the point of comfort not only for my job, but because there were some genuinely interesting things. I’ve never seen a game feature drugs as a coping mechanism in such a dramatic way. There were some genuinely neat visual tricks and other encounters in What Happened. But What Happened is uncomfortable to play, and without comfort options, it’s completely unplayable for me I’m willing to bet that’s true for a good portion of the population, too.

 

What Happened is available today on Windows.

 

 

 

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