Six years ago, a group of twelve people came together to form the developer formally known as Freaky Creations, based in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Their goal was simple: create games that explored “loneliness, freedom, egotism, addiction, psychopathy, obsession, mania, chauvinism, and so on.” Their first game is To Leave, an interesting game to say the least. Boasting an abstract art style and challenging gameplay, To Leave is far more than a game; it is a thought-provoking statement of the human condition and tackles deep questions that no other games dare address for fear of being too controversial.
To Leave has not reached many ears and probably never will—such is the destiny of small indie games like these. But that does not mean its message should fall on deaf ears. Many will play this game and ponder it for days upon days. Having a Christian worldview helps when playing games such as these, since those that believe in Christ know they can have hope in the future and in His saving grace in the face of absolute despair.
Violence: There is no blood or gore in To Leave, but the game is full of eerie and frightening images that are cause for concern. On several occasions the complexion of the main character, Harm, will change into a zombie-like expression; this might be frightening to look at if the player is not used to such images.
Drug/Alcohol Use: To Leave features heavy drug use and that is an understatement. In the opening of the game, several cutscenes show Harm ingesting chemical concoctions to inebriate himself in order to experience a psychedelic dream. There are several allusions to drug use in his journals that the player can read through. Throughout Harm’s apartment, there are drug-related ingredients and tools strewn about the floor. There is also evidence of vomit, a side-effect of drug overdose.
Harm discovers his “purpose” through these psychedelic trips and experiences. The entire game gives off a dreamy and surreal vibe that makes the player feel like they are currently experiencing a drug trip simply through watching the images on the screen.
Language: Throughout his journals, Harm uses the word “f*ck” frequently and also the word “d*ck” when describing how he earns money.
Sexual Themes: Harm makes it fairly obvious that the main way he earns his money for food and drugs is by performing sexual activities with clients. Harm does not refer to himself as a male prostitute, but he talks about what he does a lot in his journals. There are no graphic sexual acts shown in-game, except that of two silhouettes embracing and kissing in midair, which happens during another one of Harm’s experiences.
Other Themes: To Leave deals with heavy themes such as suicide, alienation, bullying, and addiction. In his journals, Harm speaks of a girl he loved who decided to kill herself and how it affected him. At times, he will also speak of wanting to kill himself as well to be done with the pain and suffering he experiences in his life.
It is fascinating how Freaky Creations was able to work topics like bullying and alienation into their gameplay mechanics. For example, in a level named “The Bully,” Harm will have to work his way around a block that will rush towards him the moment he shows himself. To avoid it, Harm will have to hide behind several obstacles and make his way to the goal. In other levels, there are blocks that repel from him should he get too close, thus showing the theme of alienation and loneliness.
Harm also describes his society, which is quite obviously meant to be a critique of our current society, claiming that it over-consumes and creates an overlying mood of comfort, pretending that there is nothing wrong with the way they live.
Harm is in great despair and has not been able to find any hope for quite some time—so much so that he has turned to drugs and sex for comfort, causing him to slowly turn psychotic. As I was playing this, my heart hurt for Harm because he felt that no one cared and that there was something wrong with him. It caused him to desire some form of escape. In the game, Harm struggles with feelings of guilt and doubt. Before I came to Christ, I felt the same exact way—I asked the same exact questions.
Thanks be to God that he takes us as we are and that there is grace for us. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus calls out to us, but often times, it is other Christians who act as walls to the gospel and reject people before they even get a chance to experience the love of Christ. In Matthew 23:13, Jesus calls out those who do this very thing, saying “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”
To Leave is about a young man named Harm who, through various psychedelic dreams and trips, has come to the conclusion that the gods have bestowed it upon him to harvest the souls of all peoples and send them all to heaven. In order to do this, Harm must find and activate all eight temples located throughout his world. To travel to each temple, the gods have given Harm a glowing, floating door, which is able to create portals near each temple. The story sets up the gameplay nicely and is mostly laid out at the beginning of the game, making that part the slowest in terms of flow. The rest of the game moves at a steady pace.
After the beginning cutscenes, the player is given access to Harm’s journal, providing over thirty pages of lore and background to the story. If it is one thing I enjoy in any game, it is background information that is optional to read, but gives an explanation of the world in which the game takes place. I love diving into lore whenever it is presented, and the fact that there is so much of it shows how much the developers loved the world of To Leave. While it could have come across as pretentious, the game executes its values well, showing its genuine heart.
At its core, To Leave is a quality platformer and puzzle game. Combine that with great story-telling, visuals, and a flawed main character and you have yourself a great game. To Leave‘s gameplay is a mixture of old-style platforming and modern puzzle-solving. In terms of movement and getting around, I was reminded of Balloon Fight (yes, the NES game).
Harm has a magical floating door and must get to specific purple and blue blocks without touching any walls or obstacles. The door stays afloat by tapping “A” on an Xbox controller—my controller of choice—and sinks back down when no button is pushed. The game recommends a PS4 or Xbox controller, but keyboard will work as well. The door feels heavier than it looks, resulting in a lot of unwanted bumps which will cause Harm to be sucked in through the door and returned to the last block he landed on. Purple blocks are “goal” blocks while blue blocks are “checkpoint” blocks and only serve as a return point.
To Leave has some clever gameplay mechanics that keep it interesting. The door will only be functional as long as it has enough Vibrance. As Harm describes in his journals, Vibrance is basically the essence of life and is what makes up all things. In platforming, Vibrance serves as a timer, depleting at one Vibrance per second. Once you hit zero Vibrance, you will have to start the entire chapter over again.
Limited Vibrance forces the player to platform as quickly as possible through each level. A chapter will have various challenges, each labeled differently according to what Harm has to deal with. Some examples of level titles include “The Night” and “The Fire of the City.” Puzzles differ from room to room. Sometimes you will need to simply time your floating well enough to avoid being hit and other times you will be forced to move certain obstacles out of the way using your wit and skill.
In my playthrough of To Leave, I encountered some extremely difficult levels that took longer than expected. A typical level would usually take anywhere between twenty to sixty seconds to complete. As I progressed, I found one level took me nearly sixty minutes to think through and traverse. At times, I would become exasperated and want to quit, but that would mean having to start the entire chapter over and doing all puzzles leading up to this one single puzzle that was near-impossible to figure out. Through perseverance and diligence (and walking away from the game for a bit) I was able to get through every single level of the game, but not without much difficulty.
Speaking of the difficulty, many of the preliminary levels were far too easy and simple. On top of that, I did not like the difficulty spike. One level was easy while the next was extremely difficult. A good puzzle-platformer eases the player into more and more difficult levels, in my opinion. It is still possible to beat the more difficult levels, but not without bumping into obstacles a few thousand times to become familiar with the level and learning the hard way.
To provide the proper ambiance and mood for the different levels and games, the soundtrack is appropriate. The music sounds airy and lazy at times, simulating what a drug trip would feel like. On the contrary, during psychosis, a chaotic soundtrack plays in the background, simulating what it would be like to hear all of the crazy noises, voices, and sounds in one’s head. To provide a taste of what the music is like in To Leave, here is the track for “Harm’s Room.”
With the fun gameplay and platforming and the story and background being immersive, To Leave is a game worth experiencing. However, this recommendation comes with a caveat. Be advised, this game is not for the faint of heart or for children. Only buy this game if you are willing to see madness firsthand. The game will not only challenge your skill, but also—judging on how open you are to new ideas—quite possibly your faith. Yet if you hold fast to what you know to be true about Christ and the Bible, nothing will phase you. Ten dollars is a tad steep for a game that only takes about five hours to beat, but it is a good game nonetheless.
Review code generously provided by Novy Unlimited
The Bottom Line
To Leave or not to leave? That is a question to be asked by both the main character and the player. While it has great gameplay and story, To Leave has intense themes not for the faint of heart. Despite the length of the game and the somewhat high price, I recommend it.