Number of Reviews: 5
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Elliptical poem with moments of true horror, May 31, 2022
by ccpost (Greensboro, North Carolina)
I played this game shortly after howling dogs, as I was absolutely blown away by that game and wanted to play more of Porpentine's works. It's perhaps not fair to review this work in comparison to the other, though there are significant similarities and differences between the two. Both feature incredibly visceral and beautiful writing, and both integrate seemingly discrete episodes that mix the surreal and familiar into a broader whole. The main difference is that the episodes in howling dogs revolve around and return to a central location, which lends the game a certain coherence, while their angelical understanding is more meandering, without a clear sense of how one visionary scene connects to the next.
Despite the lack of a strong connecting through-line, their angelical understanding does have a driving core message that comes across powerfully even through the somewhat elliptical language and the often outright bizarre scenes. Ultimately, this is a story of the player-character grappling with abuse -- both the abuser and friends and family members who enable the abuse. The end of the game presents a simple but insidious gameplay mechanic that forces the player to grapple with how to confront this devastating situation.
While the game leading up to this final encounter does not quite cohere for me, each episode in and of itself is brilliant. Throughout, there are many examples of inventive uses of links and text manipulation to achieve different aesthetic effects. In some cases, a whole game could be built around what's essentially a one-off experiment in this game. While some of the scenes work better than others, there are several moments that rise to a level of true horror that I felt deep in my body. Perhaps the most haunting being (Spoiler - click to show)the cottage where countless hands fall to the floor. Contrasting with the surreal horror, there are the even more horrifying moments of a cleanly rendered domestic scene in which people in another room are ignoring abuse in the adjoining room.
This is definitely not a game to approach lightly, but if you're prepared to engage -- both directly and obliquely -- with themes of abuse and self-harm, their angelical understanding is a remarkable game.