‘Figment 2: Creed Valley’ review: Lovable, but tedious
There’s a stunning musical sequence near the middle of Figment 2: Creed Valley’s five-hour runtime that hints at something much more nuanced and deeply considered than its childish trappings might suggest.
Set in the mind of a work-obsessed young father, the player finds themself in a darkened abyss filled with anthropomorphic bad opinions — furry little people that represent all the ideas the man once had but has justly discarded. Disorganized and a little mindless, the player must find a way to corral all these foolish ideas so they might pass. Once this task has been completed, the opinions line up to form a choir and sing about all the small things a person might grow out of — a taste for specific pizza toppings or a misunderstanding about the simple workings of the world.
The player can sit and listen, and if they do so they might find the opinions slowly growing older, and deeper. Suddenly, the choir takes a turn for the sociopolitical; it reveals that cops cannot be trusted. It allows vaccines do not cause autism. It pauses for a moment at the life-saving message of “don’t drink and drive” before concluding with an existential horror of individual insignificance.
Therein lies the strange dichotomy of Figment 2, a game that looks, feels, and plays like a children’s action game but which, ultimately, teaches lessons much better expressed to those aging out of wonder and into stagnation. We are within a man struggling with arbitrary and outdated social constraints about what it means to be a good husband and father while achieving success. Meanwhile, our avatars are piercingly-voiced and saccharinely naïve cartoons, armed with a child’s wooden sword and a vague — and sometimes grating — sense of optimism.
Those avatars and the world they live in are ceaselessly charming. There are clever concepts, such as switching between open-mindedness or close-mindedness as a tool for opening pathways and solving puzzles. Paired with the whimsical creatures of the mind and their teetering storybook homes, the world is cheerful and pleasant to be in. A child might sink into the world and be awash in its cleverness.
An adult player might spend the whole game with a knowing, adult-humoring-a-child smirk on their face.
Most of the Figment 2‘s songs land hard — not just that of the discarded choir, but a few musical points for both the intro boss and the final boss. The latter carries something of 90s pop-punk dressed in circus pomp, while the former feels somehow operatic. Sprinkled here and there are (intentionally) clunky raps performed by an old man, which has a sort of endearing effect for a minor character. We know it’s bad, our characters know it’s bad, and yet he raps all the same. The game implies itself to be a musical, but this handful of songs don’t quite fill out the length and breadth of the game –there isn’t enough here to properly fill out an EP, let alone a cast recording.
Without having played the first game (which is, sweetly, free on Steam until the end of today, March 9th), I can’t speak to the game’s musical lineage, let alone any narrative connectivity; one might assume we’ve been in the same man’s head, making this a return to a familiar but conflicted space. Figment 2 lands even without that familiarity. An avid collector of hidden gems in the game will be blessed with a deeper understanding of the character, unlocking memories that explain their current emotional place.
However complete a player’s collection ends up being, the journey feels earnest and genuine. The man we reside within learns a lesson that we ourselves might need to learn: we can’t be expected to keep the same hallmarks of success as our parents laid out for themselves. We can’t be expected to work endless hours, to deny ourselves and our loved ones, for an outdated (and, quite frankly, unlikely) end goal.
There are, however, gameplay hiccups that might well turn off audiences young and old, chief among them a sense of tedium. Our avatars move at a crawl, making the lack of a run button maddening, while each conflict of the game is not only a touch too long but a mere copy-and-paste repetition of the battle before it. Most enemies go through cycles of invulnerability, and the player might wish they needed one cycle less to beat them. Two big set-piece boss battles bookend Figment 2 — the only two in the game — and, while compelling in their novelty, both could do with one or two fewer phases.
Because of this feeling of dragging feet and padded conflict, the game feels somehow condescending to its player — adult or child. It’s a wonderful world to visit, the game seems to say, but we both know you don’t want to stay. Players will want to love Figment 2 — it has all the earmarks of something beloved — but there’s an earnest threat of burnout. It’s best played in small portions to avoid the looming tedium.