Illusion is a puzzle-platformer where you play as a young girl called Emma and her cuddly sidekick Topsy. The game takes place in the mind of her father Euclide and tasks Emma and Topsy with traversing the mystery of your surroundings and the extent of Euclides descent into alcoholism, depression and heartbreak.
On first impressions, the game strongly evokes 2013’s Contrast with its early 19th century Parisian aesthetic and use of fixed camera angles. It’s an incredibly surreal place to be and the three different chapters are all distinct from one another with the first a Circus-like environ that showcases Euclides origins, the second being the horrors he experienced in the Great War and the third a mix of all three with strong religious undertones conveyed by heavenly areas and dark hellscape mazes.
It is an incredibly personal story where you discover Emma’s relationship with her father and learn about all the troubles he’s had in his life ever since he lost her. In the beginning, you learn how great their relationship was together which makes the second and third chapters all the more moving and sombre as you see a once happy and noble man struggling with depression, alcoholism and a broken heart through no fault of his own.
It is often moving as you pick up picture pieces and listen to gramophones dotted around levels that give you insight into the mind of Euclide, you increasingly feel more and more sorry for him and emphasise with his personal struggles throughout. Although the Antagonist Francis Legrand does, unfortunately, fall too far into the surreal and supernatural, turning into a one-note comic-book villain by the end.
Even though the story of Illusion is often a moving and sombre experience, the same can’t be said of its tried and true collectable and puzzle mechanics. The meat of Illusion’s interactivity is through puzzles (a variety of panel, shadow, light, mirror, colour switches, perspective and sound puzzles) combined with picking up a variety of collectibles from the gramophones mentioned previously to paintings, mirror fragments and tokens that allow you to progress out of a particular section or chapter.
The game insists on including imprecise platforming sections sporadically with an incredibly frustrating escape section at the end of the first chapter where you have to outrun an enormous eye. The issue is that the platforming is just too unreliable to make this enjoyable and after a 15th attempt at the same section – running into an almost completely invisible black slime enemy – it quickly gets monotonous and irritating. The poor checkpointing doesn’t help the situation either, you’re often put back before a cutscene which means every retry you have to watch and listen to the same dialogue lines be delivered over and over again.
More frustration comes at the end of the game where the game requires you to traverse dark mazes with little light and signposting. You’re forced round gigantic mazes with no way to know if you’re heading in the right direction and barely able to see the path ahead of you, getting through these sections often felt like luck rather than judgement.
The second chapter is where the game was at its strongest with an adventure game style of interlocking rooms and puzzles associated to each of them that had you having to remember where certain things go in another room and which routes connect with certain stages.
Ultimately, Illusion has an ambitious heartwarming story with a unique gothic art style and often looks vibrant and beautiful. It has a huge variety of puzzles to keep things fresh but it just isn’t enough to save it from mediocrity and frustration in the end.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*