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A good attempt, December 2, 2017
"A Beauty Cold and Austere" takes its player though a tour of freshman-level mathematics, from the basics of combinatorics to touch the beginnings of cardinal numbers. If unfamiliar with the relevant concepts, this game might take a while to complete, but if you know the math then you shouldn't have much difficulty. The puzzles were tasteful and well-designed, though I had a little difficulty determining which puzzles had already been solved and which had not. I have one complaint about some of the puzzles, such as the Hotel puzzle, which used character knowledge instead of player knowledge. This felt jarring - like I had been robbed of some agency - since I knew the answer but I had to find a way to force the player-character to figure out the answer for himself.
As for the main point of this review: I think this game falls short of its eponymous cold beauty. All of the math is at the high-school or freshman level. This isn't the problem - it's a positive, since it makes the game accessible. The issue is that it emphasizes the same ugly parts of math that are taught in these classes: matrix algebra, trigonometry, calculus. At one point the player is even asked something along the lines of "What's the third important topic in calculus after the limit and the integral?" But the limit, integral, and (Spoiler - click to show)derivative are hardly conceptually interesting together. The only relation between them is that a calculus class would allocate each of 3 sections to them.
These aren't the beautiful parts of mathematics. They are the ugly results of condensing math into something useful which can be applied to introductory physics. I felt like I had entered a world not of mathematics but of math class.
I want to qualify these feelings because they're a bit too harsh. I really did like the game despite its shortcomings, and I think it's worth playing and thinking about. This game sets high expectations from the very start, and though I think it fails to reach them, it remains an enjoyable and provoking experience.