Narrative-driven games that err on the darker side are typically my holy grail. The ones that draw you in with the promise of introducing you to a darker side of life. A realistic look at how anxiety, depression, drugs and self harm manifests in young people. Which is why What Happened from Genius Slackers initially caught my eye. It promised to give me a look into the life of Stiles, a troubled high school teen struggling to find a way in the world. And while the game does have its good moments, it lacked the overall finishing touches to make it great.
DISCLAIMER: The following will have spoilers so proceed with caution. Also What Happened may not be appropriate for all ages. The main character sometimes uses sharp objects to self-harm, takes drugs to enter illusionary realms and depending on the player’s actions, there may be a non-graphic depiction of suicide. There is violence and blood in cut scenes and gameplay, including the use of sharp objects. There is strong language in dialogue and written text.
A Story With Strong Intentions
What Happened drops us into a very intense world. Right off the bat I was introduced to Stiles as he is hiding out in a bathroom stall. After an uncomfortable amount of time spent trying to focus on some cliche bathroom stall scribbles, Stiles finally gets up and runs right into the story’s antagonist, Jimmy. After Stiles gets his butt handed to him, the rest of the school opened up for me to explore. It is during this time that I got a good look at Stiles’ mental situation.
Stiles struggles with acute anxiety and depression along with heavy substance abuse. I spent most of the game watching him do battle with the Stiles in his head. It manifests as another him, but with a darker attitude. The evil Stiles pushes him to end his life and end all of their suffering. There is a constant reminder that Stiles has no friends or people who care for him.
What Happened never romanticizes Stiles troubles, instead it focuses on giving it a more realistic feel. Instead of glossing over how Stiles’ drug use effects his mood swings, they put it front and center. I was able to see how his drug use and his mental illness effect those around him as well. The story is by far the best feature.
From the moment I booted up What Happened I knew the playthrough was going to be rough. The menu screen was a hallway I needed to walk down to start playing the game. While I initially loved this idea, it opened my eyes to the issues I was about to face. Movement in this small space was buggy and forced the camera to jump when I turned around. This left me feeling nauseous.
I was hopeful that this was just an issue in the menu screen, but things only got worse. One particular issue was when the camera became completely flipped. At first I thought that forcing me to walk on the ceiling was a part of the story itself, but I realized when I couldn’t recreate the effect that it was a bug. This happened on more than one occasion and I was forced to restart the game.
If there had been just a few small issues, my playthrough of What Happened would have been worth the time. But it felt like there was something new around every corner. Clunky movements while trying to avoid hands grabbing me from lockers, being flipped upside down at the most inopportune times and even having the camera locked into a weird angle. Constantly having to restart the game really killed the overall story immersion.
World Created to Scare Us
It can be seen in every facet of What Happened that Genius Slackers loved the game they were making. Visually the game is stunning as if shifts between Stiles’ moods. When I first interacted with the school, he was in the mood to ignore those around him, and thus they became invisible to me. When his anxiety was high and felt like the world was after him, the world around me would darken and I could feel the tension.
What Happened truly thrived when the horror elements of the world are at their best. Being surrounded by the crumbling walls of the school or being trapped in a house infested with butterflies are the moments I looked forward to most. At times, navigating through these worlds helped me forget the struggles with the controls and the bugs.
Between the world and the story, What Happened has the potential to be a truly scary game. The atmosphere of the levels fit so well with the story. It visually manifested Stiles’ fears before my eyes. These two features alone nearly made up for its faults, however, the longer I progressed the more irritated I became when I needed fix a technical issue.
What Happened has the potential to be better, it just needs a little bit more love from Genius Slackers. The story and visual elements are great. I finished my playthrough feeling invested in Stiles and hoping that I provided him the best possible outcome. But where it falls flat is in the mechanics and gameplay. But this is something that can be fixed, and it should be. So I suggest giving What Happened a little time for some much needed updates before diving in.