What Happened deals with some pretty intense subject matters, and therefore at the start of this review I want to make a point of saying that if you or someone around you is dealing with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, then please, don't be afraid to seek out help.
As you can probably imagine, What Happened is a first-person experience that delves heavily into themes such as depression and suicide. Mental health is a topic of discussion in many a game, and here you take control of a teenager called Stiles. He is dealing with the passing of his father, his girlfriend's infidelity, and an LSD problem.
The game has more in common with a walking sim, especially at the start, and I have to say at the beginning I was pretty impressed. You spend some time walking through different corridors in a high school, and while you're running around one place, sometimes the locations look different depending on Stile's mindset at the time. For example, at one point there's a shark in a flooded corridor.
What Happened does the job of raising awareness about mental health really well, and deals with the subject matter to a high level. The issue for me was the polish and the overall experience I had. In fact, the biggest problem for me was the game's mechanics.
As I mentioned, it's a first-person adventure game, and for the most part, it works well. For example, near the start, you walk through corridors with floating backpacks that apparently symbolise Stile's invisibility to the other pupils. The issue for me is that you seem to walk around exploring - which I like - until you walk to a certain place and an animation triggers like a cutscene, for example, being punched in the face or watching someone punch a locker.
Now, I've heard it said that this is a horror, but it felt more unnerving than genuinely scary, which I have to say worked for me. The problem was that I spent a hell of a lot of time opening drawers looking for notes and keys. I understand that they didn't want to go for a linear approach, but I didn't find this approach very engaging. Then there were the light switches - those things were always being turned on - and they could be used to trigger events, but if I'm honest I felt that it was an overused device. The sad thing is that it got so repetitive - and unlike in Those Who Remain where light switches had a real connection to the game's plot, this just felt repetitive after a while.
Now I know a game that deals with such a heavy subject matter isn't designed to be fun in the traditional sense, and while I did enjoy the story - I felt it tricky to connect with, and some parts were just a little frustrating. One example was the sheer volume of objects you could pick up that did nothing. I spent so much time with Stiles just standing there picking things up, without saying much, and putting them down again.
Another thing I didn't enjoy was the voice acting, which wasn't great. In fact, I found it quite tricky to connect with the characters, and considering the visuals, on the whole, looked so good (maybe with the exception of some of the facial expressions), it jarred somewhat.
Now at this point, it might sound like I didn't enjoy myself, but despite those things that didn't quite work, I want to applaud a couple of things. Firstly, the story and subject matter really works and I know I've said it already, but the way that they raise awareness in this game is to be applauded. While I wasn't overly connected with the characters, I did really connect with the story and it opened my eyes.
Secondly, the ambition of the game developers is brilliant. You can tell this was a labour of love, but possibly their biggest mistake was trying to deal with too much. That said, as a first-person adventure that was designed to unnerve me, it worked really well.
One other thing I did like was some of the effects they used to transition and show Stile's mental state. There was this shifting strobing light effect that made a lasting impression and was a big part of what made the experience successful in terms of unsettling me, although this is probably not a game for people who don't like flashing lights.
All in all, What Happened is pretty good, although there were things that could have been better. The environments look good, and the story and subject matter are moving. The voice work isn't great and neither are the character's facial expressions, but if you're looking for a first-person adventure that deals with heavy issues in a thoughtful and interesting way, this might be it.
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