POLYBIUS Review: A Legend Comes To Life

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Legend says that in 1981 a game under the name POLYBIUS was introduced to arcades on the outskirts of Portland. The game was an assault on the senses with bright flashing colors and loud sound effects. People who played this game had seizures, fits of amnesia, night terrors. Despite all of that they would not stop playing the game. Men in black would come in and open up the arcade cabinets but they would not take out any coins. Just get the data they want from the machine and leave. A few months later the game was gone from arcades and it never returned. The conspiracy is that the game was developed by the government to do psychological tests on the players. It is also supposedly somehow linked to Project MKUltra, the CIA mind control program.

The legend lives on

This POLYBIUS may not be that exact game but it sure aims to emulate the legend. There is no concrete story as far as I can tell and it plays just like an arcade game. Minus the constant feeding of coins to the ever hungry arcade gods. Just to make things clear, this game does not cause fits of amnesia or night terrors but I can see people prone to seizures having a problem. I also don’t think that it is mind controlling me but come to think of it I do constantly want to play it more. You know what? I’ll go play a bit more right now. I might even try it in VR. Yes, there is a VR mode!

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Gameplay

Okay, I’m back. I didn’t get very far. Despite playing POLYBIUS for a while now I am still pretty bad at it. You see the point of the game is to control your little shit through progressively more trippy and twisted levels and to avoid smashing into things. And I can’t seem to not smash into things. You do have shields that protect you from dying in one hit, but once those shields are gone the first crash means Game Over.

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And in true arcade fashion you have to start from the very beginning. To help me from smashing into everything in my way I’m constantly shooting and destroying things in my way. And to make the experience more interesting I also pick up pills that have an acid trip effect on the world around me. I use the pills in game that is. I don’t recommend doing that in real life, while playing POLYBIUS or otherwise.

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Visuals

Back from another game session and the world seems way too bland and colorless now. I got used to the constantly changing colors, environments and patterns of POLYBIUS. The game has a very well defined style and is hard to miss if it is on a screen in the room. It’s not just the bright colors too. At some points you have to shoot down yellow cows from pillars for bonus points. If that doesn’t grab your attention I don’t know what will. The visuals are so iconic that they were even used as the main focus of the Nine Inch Nails video of “LESS THAN”.

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Music

The music is just as trippy as you would imagine for a game like this. House/techno/trance and a airline pre-flight safety speech in the background telling you what to do in case of an emergency, I guess. All cards on the field, this is not the type of music I typically listen to but this soundtrack is something else. It fits perfectly with the intense, colorful and upbeat gameplay. And the flight attendant speech just ads to the madness. It is surreal and I love it.

Concluding thoughts

This game is without a doubt one of the most nerve-racking and yet fun and addicting games that I have played in a while. Everything from the visuals and sound to the mechanics and the funny “tips” it gives you in between levels mixes together perfectly and makes for a mind blowing experience. I strongly suggest that you pick up or at least give a look at POLYBIUS on Steam and on the creator, Llamasoft’s  website.

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