Universal Hologram

by Kit Riemer profile

Science Fiction

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A game about being extremely online, November 22, 2021
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2021

Universal Hologram is a game about becoming unmoored from reality, about how living your entire life on the internet turns you into a shell of a person (a situation that none of us relates to, I'm sure). It is also about astral projection and the simulation hypothesis. It is also a critique of utilitarianism. It's about a lot of things, and it's really good.

First of all, I love the pictures. There’s something about the AI-generated art style that’s just perfect for this story, and the specific images that are chosen always fits perfectly for the given scene. The soundtrack is nice and provides a good, unobtrusive ambience for reading, until it becomes terrifying in the appropriate scenes.

The writing alternates between a surreal and introspective style (mostly in the narration), and a hyper-self-aware, detached, irony-poisoned style (mostly in the dialogue). Overall I would like to describe the writing as “extremely online”; it reads like "weird twitter", basically. And I found the writing really funny! The juxtaposition of the philosophical and ironic styles makes me want to laugh. I know some other reviewers criticized the style as being hostile, but it worked for me, maybe because I'm used that kind of dialogue. Sometimes the story comes close to dropping the veil of irony and radiates some sincere and even painful emotions. Those parts hit awfully close to home, especially that scene with Dion.

Much of the game is linear, with click-to-advance inline links, with very short passages. I liked that style. There are occasional moments of nonlinearity, like choosing which pyramid to visit, but the game always guides the player towards advancing the main plot. However, there are significant branch points, including choosing whether or not to pursue the main plot at all. I haven't explored the paths that seem to go off-course.

I thought this would be like consciousness hologram , but it is not like Consciousness Hologram. Whereas CH was depressed and melancholic, UH has this wild exuberance about it. Actually both games are comprised of the same emotional palettes but in different quantities; CH on the darker side and UH on the lighter side.

I think one reason I might have appreciated UH more than some of the other reviewers is that I’ve played CH before. CH is a much more expansive game, with more “game-like” segments of exploration, heavy worldbuilding, and a deep philosophical exploration of utilitarianism. The details of the world are harder to come by in UH, requiring some link deep-diving, so some people might be confused by what’s going on. And it’s a really interesting world with complex philosophical underpinnings, so I’d recommend that you play Consciousness Hologram.

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Andrew Schultz, December 30, 2021 - Reply
Thanks for the notes comparing this to Consciousness Hologram. I do enjoy seeing similar (or potentially similar) works by an author and comparing them, and it may be interesting to play them in reverse order and see if anything shakes out.
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