My score for Gibbon: Beyond the Trees reflects a very specific experience I had with the game. I don’t get these experiences often but I refer to them as hitting a “flow state”. I get these more with music and creativity spaces but occasionally with games too. Its when you are totally in the zone of focus and become at one with the thing you are doing. Everything else fades away. Gibbon: Beyond the Trees gave me that.
Playing as a Gibbon is extremely simple, almost too easy at times. Your character moves forward automatically but traversal style is entirely up to you. Brachiation (swinging from tree to tree) is one style and you trigger it with the right bumper, or you can run across things or slide down them with the left bumper. Whenever you reach ledge, let go of the button and Gibbon will jump off in style. Different buttons trigger different tricks too and often you aren’t alone either. A computer driven friend will line up and hang from the trees, grab your arms and throw you further. It is so effortlessly fluid and the game seems to know when to short shift some arm patterns to line up swings visually to the end of ledges or branches to make the judgement easier to understand.
Learning all the little intricacies isn’t required but is part of the fun. Want to go low and walk on the paths? Sure. Stay in the bushes? Fine. Swing from the canopies above and somersault between treetops? Great! It is entirely down to you. This freedom of Gibbon is entirely what makes the experience feel unique, open ended and fresh. There is a story taking place, often towards the ground level of the game, but you can miss parts of it or catch glimpses as you swing forward. It lends itself to great replayability as you traverse through around 70 minutes of hand built story levels over 10 chapters. Each chapter changes the scenery, what you can traverse and what the dangers are. Try clearing a busy motorway if you don’t have the height beforehand!
Whilst the story told is an important and heartfelt one, it is of movie length. To give you more replayability “liberation” mode gives you procedurally generated levels to free birds trapped in cages. It is a nice additional extra mode with a different Lilac Gibbon that has more range and flexibility than the Pink Gibbon you play throughout story mode. I also want to shout out not just the graphical style, which is warm and pastel like South America, but also the amazing soundtrack. It is crammed with tuned percussion, one of my favourite selection of instruments. SCNTFC mixes this with orchestral drama for maximum effect and I’ll be picking up the soundtrack separately. My one issue with the game did come from the liberation mode though and it was a few desktop crashes if Lilac died. Hopefully this will be patched before release on PC. What liberation mode did help me do was learn how all the different surfaces worked though. For instance, I hadn’t been hanging from certain roof types or ledges in the story mode but I could afford to be more experimental in the bonus games. That allowed me to then think of alternative paths to take for a story replay.
All this combines perfectly to provide that “flow state” I mentioned at the beginning. I felt so free and unrestricted when swinging through the forest or city areas and everything just felt naturally right. So few games get this spot on and Gibbon deserves attention and love for that alone. Others may find that the simple control scheme might be a bit hands off but I didn’t find that the case for me. I was too busy being enraptured with the world created and the stories being told. A beautiful example of doing one thing but doing it to perfection.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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