REVIEW : Meadow (PC)
Meadow is the latest work by the Swedish studio Might And Delight. It is a small sandbox that takes up the sylvan style and setting of Shelter and Shelter 2, abandoning the narrative and inserting elementary cooperative and competitive multiplayer mechanics. In the role of a badger puppy, the player suddenly finds himself in a meadow and can do nothing but look around and start walking. There is no tutorial, nothing that instructs the player on the rules of the world he is in the must arm himself with curiosity and patience and try to understand them on his own. With all your senses alert you walk through this low poly forest: every detail, every change in the environment, becomes meaningful as you keep wondering “and now what will happen?”
The setting changes. The meadow from which we start fades into a swamp, whose watercourses lead to a lake in the middle of a snow-covered forest; from there, going up the hill, you reach a forest with autumnal colours, and so on. In the atmospheres, you can sense the geographical presence of the team: the cold, Nordic lights, the streaked trunks of the birch trees. The world has clear and sudden boundaries, delimited by a precipice from which one can fall: beyond it the mystery of a distant and confused panorama. It is a separate universe, a floating island, with waterfalls that descend from the edges of the world as in medieval cosmogony: a magical, unreal dimension, perhaps built especially for the animals that inhabit it.
It can happen, in this journey, to meet other players, other animals without names and words, and to get excited just by walking together. Communication is entrusted exclusively to emote and symbols through which you will have to learn to make yourself understood: an alphabet to be coded, a new language to learn.
The low poly graphic style is very particular, in contrast with the aesthetic that is the most popular in the current indie scene, with its tendency to simplify, clean shapes and spot colours (a recent and successful example is the style graphic of ” Virginia“). Meadow looks more like video games from the 90s: it reminded me of the first Tomb Raider, with its angular geometries, filled with textures. It is precisely the use of textures that marks the difference between what Tomb Raider was an attempt at mimesis of natural environments – conditioned by the technical limits of the time – and the aesthetic choice made by Might and Delight: in Meadow the textures are graphic, abstract and do not hide their nature as a pattern, managing, however, to represent and render the objects on which they are applied are identifiable It is a choice that works: the world of Meadow it does not seek realism, it does not hide its alienating nature as an artistic artefact; however, it manages to be immersive and fascinating, thanks also to a rarefied and poetic soundtrack, decidedly contemporary: very “Sweden 2016”, with the more “country” component, acoustic and intimate, which marries a certain cold, made of silences and delicate electronic inserts.
Exploration aside, Meadow’s gameplay is based on a system of scores and unlockable items. You can play as different animals: some (lynx, bear cub, bird) are reserved for owners of titles and DLC series ” Shelter” while the others can be unlocked by collecting specific items that can only be found by cooperating with other players. Other items unlock different skins and emote for each character. Once collected, all of these items – plus some bright plants – increase a score that determines the player’s position in a global leaderboard.
This competitive mechanic does not go very well with the poetic and rarefied atmosphere of the setting: once you understand the cooperative mechanism that allows you to unlock the contents, the poetry of the uncertain interaction between players and free and amazing exploration are transformed. in a desperate search for other people to cooperate with; once found, a frantic race begins to get more objects in the shortest possible time. The encounter with the other animals/players loses that intensity that was given by the search for a way to relate and turns into a utilitarian and repetitive relationship. The care put into the system of signs seems wasted in the face of such simplified needs for interaction between players.