In today’s overabundance of story-driven and sandbox games, Colorfiction’s surreal yet peculiar game 0°N 0°W sits comfortably in the middle. There’s absolutely no story involved, but it takes the liberty of building the environment for you. All you have to do is walk or jump and let the game do the rest. It’s a game in the sense that you use a keyboard and mouse (or a controller) to look, move, and jump around, but it’s more of a trippy yet colorful experience.
Pronounced as “Zero North Zero West,” the game starts with a first-person full motion video intro showing a city dweller venturing westward. Through a series of fast montages, we eventually make our way to a seemingly abandoned gas station. We get out of the car and finally gain control over our movement, and ultimately our curiosity takes over us.
A theatre nearby is playing something, and the door inside leads to more doors… or something like that. The details of the intro aren’t the focus here; in fact, you can skip straight through the door selection area. And this is where things get interesting.
Choose a door, and you enter one of the game’s numerous worlds for you to explore. You could be on another planet facing the Earth; you could be underwater; you could be in a living room… you could be anywhere. The colors can either glow neon-bright or clash with jagged lines. The sounds can be as tranquil as the ocean waves or as disturbing as a malfunctioning sound effects slider. There are a lot of possible combinations, and each one is as interesting as the last. And if you end up not liking the current area or you can’t find a way out, the game’s menu lets you manually select your next destination.
0°N 0°W targets not only your visual and auditory stimuli but also your perception. Some areas feel normal, some are a bit bouncy, and some can make you feel as if you’re endlessly falling. The glitchiest-looking worlds can feel so viscose that it can be hard to move. In the craziest areas, Colorfiction employed clever optical effects to mess with your head. With no end in sight, some of the regions can feel intensely smothering and oddly threatening.
And that’s what makes the game so magical. By playing with just two of our senses, Colorfiction created a hodgepodge of worlds that can evoke so many reactions within us. We don’t even have to touch anything to trigger a fight-or-flight response – it’s just colors and a bunch of moving lines and shapes. The sensation of being somewhere heightens dramatically when you’re in an erratic area, giving no visual cues as to where you are spatially. The feeling of wanting to escape creeps up right away, almost as if you’re getting sucked in by quicksand.
But at the same time, it’s best to remember that 0°N 0°W is still a game. Even though there are numerous colorscapes for everyone to experience, the game’s randomizer will eventually have you encounter something more than once. There also seems to be rules in where you land – for example, diving into any body of water naturally leads you to the water-filled area. This repetition, either by design or not, brings you in and out of immersion that can make you feel a bit disoriented instead of refreshed.
So if you’re about to explore 0°N 0°W, do so in short sessions instead of long bursts. Experience it just long enough to be mesmerized. Feel the sensations but don’t overdo it. Treat this game like you would a rich, decadent dessert: savor each small bite slowly and let each ingredient sing. You’ll be glad you did.
Note: Game If You Are, on behalf of Colorfiction, provided a copy for review.