Creaks Review – Dazzling Depths
CreaksApple Arcade, July 10; PC and consoles, July 22
Over the past decade and a half, Czech indie studio Amanita Design have carved out a niche for themselves creating beautifully-illustrated adventure games like Machinarium, Samorost, and Botanicula. Nobody makes games quite like Amanita, and yet, you could argue there’s an ever-so-slight sameyness to most of their major projects, as they tend to rely on similar point ‘n’ click interfaces and puzzle-design philosophies. Well, that changes with their latest game, Creaks.
Creaks is another idiosyncratic, lushly-illustrated Amanita puzzle-adventure game, but it casts aside the simple point ‘n’ click framework in favor of more direct puzzle-platformer style controls. Creaks is easily Amanita’s most ambitious game yet, but has the team ascended the rickety ladder to the next level? Or have they overreached? Time to expose this one to the light…
Creaks casts players as an unnamed protagonist who discovers a hidden passage in his room leading to a crumbling collection of ruins that are inhabited by mysterious bird people and threatened by a giant monster. The bird folk are looking for a way to fight off the monster, and you’ll find yourself drawn into the conflict as you delve deeper into the world. What does all this represent? I’m not sure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, I’ve become a bit weary of indie games spoon-feeding me their messages. Maybe Creaks’ giant monster is a metaphor for depression, anxiety, or something else, but it’s not made obvious, and that’s fine. Sometimes a fantasy world is just that!
Despite not having an obvious message, Creaks’ strange world is still fully engrossing, largely due to its gorgeous hand-drawn and painted visuals. Amanita games are all beautiful, but they push things even further here, creating a richly detailed world reminiscent of the work of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton. Each screen is packed with fascinating little details and the scenery seamlessly transitions as you trudge further down – you start in a ramshackle mansion, but will make your way through crumbling libraries, laboratories, places of worship, and much more. As you explore, you’ll stumble upon various odd paintings and even simple WarioWare-esque minigames you can play. As with most great adventure games, the world of Creaks feels larger than what’s immediately presented to you. You get the sense there’s a real history to this world and plenty to be seen just off screen.
As you might hope given the game’s title, Creaks also features some fantastic sound design. Yes, there are plenty of creaks, as well as a rich mosaic of drips, drops, squelches, crumbles, and shuffles. The game’s soundtrack, from acclaimed Scottish composer Joe “Hidden Orchestra” Acheson, mixes eerie melodies with some surprisingly rousing beats as the game responds subtly to your actions, increasing in intensity as you successfully work your way through a puzzle. Let me tell you, it's deeply satisfying when you’re nearing the end of a tough brainteaser and those drums really kick in.
When it comes to gameplay, Amanita keeps things as simple as possible. Your character can climb ladders, jump small horizontal gaps, drop off ledges, and eventually gains the ability to remotely switch certain lights on and off. That’s all there is to it – your mind is your main tool here. While the game often has the feel of a Metroidvania game (more on that in a minute), it’s mostly linear, presenting a series of puzzles usually contained within a single screen. The majority of these puzzles revolve around the quirky fact that shining light on the game’s enemies causes them to turn into harmless pieces of furniture that can be used to your advantage. Usually your goal is to flip switches, open gates, and bypass baddies in order to reach the next ladder that will lead you deeper into the ruins.
That may sound a bit repetitive, but Creaks does a great job of introducing new enemies and elements to the mix. You start off mainly dealing with robotic guard dogs, but will eventually encounter floating jellyfish that follow pre-determined paths, shadowy creatures that mirror your every move, and more. Creaks’ puzzle design is elegant, with the proper solution rarely requiring too many steps (most of the time the answer is starting you right in your face). The game’s level of challenge is perfect – you will have to engage your gray matter, but 9 times out of 10, you can work out what to do with a bit of trial and error. I rarely felt stymied or frustrated, which is good, because the game doesn’t have any sort of hint system. The lack of pointers isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a somewhat odd oversight considering other Amanita games like Machinarium have featured very well-designed hint systems.
Creaks will last you approximately 5 to 7 hours, maybe a bit more if you really struggle with the puzzles or are out to find all the secrets, which felt just about right. No one thing overstayed its welcome. As soon as I got a bit weary of an enemy or puzzle mechanic, it was on to something else. Your adventure through Creaks’ strange underworld is perfectly paced, with new sights, challenges, bits of story, and ever-rising stakes always propelling you forward. Very few games are as well-structured as this one. The feeling of satisfaction I got from Creaks honestly reminded me of greats like Super Metroid, which is obviously a very flattering comparison, but I think Amanita’s latest deserves it. Yeah, you can play through Creaks in a weekend, but it’s a journey you won’t soon forget.
This review was based on a PC copy of Creaks provided by publisher Amanita Design.
Creaks renovates a well-worn genre, delivering one of the most satisfying indie puzzle-platformers in some time. Between its stunning visual and audio design, absorbing world, and perfectly-balanced puzzles, it’s hard to find serious fault with any part of this game’s construction. If you’re a fan of puzzles or Amanita Design’s past games, you need to grab a flashlight and delve in.
- Simple yet challenging puzzles
- Richly-detailed, memorable world
- Unpretentious, affecting story
- Wonderfully detailed visuals
- Stirring soundtrack
- Just the right length
- No hint system