“Thirty Flights of Loving” begins as more games should: with some smooth jazz. After walking downstairs and encountering these fine gentlemen…
…we make our way through a secret passageway into the basement where we run into our two comrades, Anita (at least I’m assuming that’s her real name) and…uh…Other Guy.
Clicking on either of them brings up a flashy series of images denoting their skills. It’s clear that Anita is the muscle of the group, as her skills include demolitions and sharpshooting. Other Guy has a more utility focus, as he is a forger and a safecracker.
You make your way downstairs to an airplane and the three of you take off. The scene quickly cuts and it’s obvious something went horribly wrong. Anita has a gun pointed at you that’s clicking empty and Other Guy has a bullet wound in his chest. You pick him up and begin making your way through the crowded airport. But soon enough the scene shifts again. This time it’s a flashback, as you and Anita are in an apartment, peeling and eating oranges.
As you walk toward the door time jumps forward and Anita is joined by Other Guy. The three of you make your way up to the building’s rooftop and sit down at a reception. People start dancing. You and Anita start drinking…a lot.
The two of you then make your way downstairs to the apartment, where Anita waits for you on the bed. Before you get to her, the scene shifts back to the airport, where you use a luggage carrier to help move Other Guy.
Making your way into the main entrance for the airport, you suddenly find yourselves trapped and set upon by police cameras floating from balloons. Other Guy pulls out two guns and begins shooting them down. Eventually, you are allowed to make your way through the entrance where the cops are waiting. The scene jumps forward and apparently the two of you were able to steal a cop car.
You have a sudden flashback to you and Anita riding together on a motorcycle. She turns around to you, love clearly in her eyes. But the scene is quickly interrupted by an on-rushing semi-truck, snapping you back to the present. However, it’s too late, as you collide with it head on.
And then, in what is either a self-aware jab or a display of pretentiousness, you are catapulted into a museum scene where people are standing around drinking champagne and marveling at various exhibits related to the game.
All in all, the game takes about 10-15 minutes to beat. It’s not very long, and there’s no dialogue at all. In fact, whenever someone talks it reminds me of the adults from Charlie Brown. But the big question is, did I like it?
Honestly…not really. The game is too short and lacks the detail that would normally get me invested in a story.
Now, before someone says it, I understand that was the point. “Thirty Flights of Loving” is an experiment in telling a short story with all the context ripped out of it. So you either have to poke and prod to find the context or make your own.
I get what the game was going for. It just didn’t resonate with me.
But apparently it did with video game journalists when it came out six years ago. The site Rock Paper Shotgun praised the game in a recommendation back in 2015, saying that “it’s more thrilling, funny, romantic, and tragic than many games manage in fifteen hours.” Now, I’m not sure if I missed something, but I didn’t feel that emotional at all when I finished the game my first time through a few years ago.
In fact, my reaction was more “wait…that’s it?”
I understand that many video games can get bogged down by bloated storytelling. You don’t have to look much further than “Modern Warfare 2” as a good example of this (I did a story analysis of the game way back when too). In the game the main villain’s motivation is literally “I lost a whole bunch of soldiers when a nuke went off, so I started World War Three to drive up recruitment numbers”. Because logic.
And yet, the context of a story is what makes it worth it for me. I like learning a character’s backstory, their motivations, their hopes and dreams. It’s part of what makes reading books so engaging. You get to see how the character thinks and feels. “Thirty Flights of Loving” doesn’t have that. If anything, stripping out the context only made me understand why I like that context in the first place. Hell, it’s a big part of the reason why I enjoyed “Cryostasis” the game I talked about last month. And I couldn’t even explain half of what happened in the game. To me, “Thirty Flights of Loving” feels more like a hollow shell of a story. It’s got charm and style on the outside, but the inside is just air.
All of this is going to make my next statement seem very strange:
I’m glad this game exists.
I may not have liked the game, but I still think it’s good that the game is out there. It’s good that independent game developers are able to experiment and get their creations noticed. They may not appeal to everyone, but the nature of artistic expression cannot always be held down by what is profitable or what has wide market appeal. Because sometimes, you don’t know what has wide market appeal. Something new could come along and drastically reshape things. It’s kind of like how superhero movies experienced a downturn for a while, then Marvel came along and started their cinematic universe. Suddenly BAM…it feels like we can’t go more than two or three months without another superhero movie opening in theaters and making hundreds of millions in revenue.
I may not have cared for “Thirty Flights of Loving” in much the same way that I don’t really care for superhero movies anymore, but I can appreciate that it exists. Experimentation should be encouraged, because even failed experiments can teach us valuable lessons.
Thanks for reading! Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.