Metamorphosis is a first-person adventure/puzzle game and also an adaptation of the literary classic “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, originally published in 1915. The game was developed by the small indie studio Ovid Works and was published by All in! Games. Like in the classic book, Metamorphosis follows the story of a lowly salesman named Gregor, who one day inexplicably transforms into a bug. Reasonably anxious about his predicament, Gregor sets off on a wild and introspective adventure to restore his human state and save his pal Josef, who has been arrested by a tyrannical government. The concept of exploring a rich and fantastical world from the perspective of a tiny insect is interesting, especially when combined with the existential and surreal tone of Kafka’s writing. That said, does Metamorphosis stand out from the rest of the narrative-driven indies, or is this just a slightly trippy and overly ambitious adaptation? We hope our Metamorphosis review will help you figure that out!
A Bug’s Life
Metamorphosis begins with our protagonist Gregor waking up at his friend Josef’s house after a fierce night of drinking. Woozy from his hangover, Gregor stumbles through Josef’s home, slowly shrinking in size. Within minutes he transforms into a tiny insect, complete with skittering speech and sticky appendages. Josef isn’t having a great day either, as he is accosted by police and accused of an unknown crime.
As Gregor delves deeper into the insect world hidden underneath desks and behind bookshelves, he begins to hear rumors of a mysterious location known as the Tower. Determined to rescue Josef, reach the Tower and return to his human form, you must help Gregor through this wild and unusual world.
The narrative in Metamorphosis is fine, but it’s nothing exceptional. As an adaptation of Kafka’s original story, this is an endearing but average attempt. There are a few funny moments, some witty writing, and plenty of very weird twists and turns, but none of it had a lasting impact on me. Although I appreciated some of the more oddball bug-friends you meet along the way, I never really cared much for the main characters.
The lack of character empathy, along with the abrupt ending (of which there are two, depending on your choices), made for a slightly underwhelming second half of the story. I was intrigued and entertained by quite a bit of Metamorphosis‘ narrative, but that intrigue failed to last throughout the game.
Into the Shrooms
In terms of gameplay, Metamorphosis is mostly about first-person exploration with some light puzzle-solving peppered in. Due to your tiny size, navigating the simplest environments can be tough, so you’ll need to run, jump, and occasionally stick to surfaces to survive. Don’t let your size fool you though, as Gregor can reach pretty impressive speeds, resulting in a fast-paced adventure (if you so choose). The levels and world also have an impressive sense of scale, and working your way through the various set pieces is consistently intriguing.
Occasionally, you’ll run into a friendly bug who needs some help, be it recovering a piece of food or fixing a broken printing press. Most puzzles boil down to finding the right location or interactive element and either pressing or rotating it, using your many legs to spin various mechanical pieces. I never got a huge sense of satisfaction from the puzzles, but they helped break up the exploration-based gameplay.
If you ever get stuck or lost, you can pull up an overview of your surroundings that point you in the right direction. Metamorphosis is rarely challenging, but you might get turned around from time to time. Levels are linear and broken up into shorter sections, providing plenty of checkpoints as well. When compared to other narrative-driven games, Metamorphosis definitely earns points due to its inventive and weird nature, but it often misses the mark and goes for style over substance.
A Bumpy Ride
While Metamorphosis contains some inventive level design and psychedelic art, it struggles to display it clearly and without stutter. On the Xbox One version that we played for this review, Metamorphosis was prone to incredibly bad frame rates, especially when you are exploring a significantly large area. The visuals also have a habit of being grainy and blurry, which sucks a lot of the life out of the experience. I also encountered one area that was full of visual glitches, which persisted even after restarting the application. This eventually crashed the application and my system as well.
While the visual issues are annoying, it’s the frame rate problems that stick out like a sore thumb. There were a few areas where the frame rate was so poor that it affected general gameplay, almost souring the entire experience. The fast-paced, smooth navigation starts to feel clunky and unresponsive as soon as the technical issues start to pop up. While the PlayStation 4 and PC versions seem to fare much better, Metamorphosis on a standard Xbox One has a bevvy of performance problems. Hopefully these things will be patched with time, but currently, the chuggy and choppy gameplay is far too frequent to be excused.
Should You Play Metamorphosis?
Metamorphosis offers a unique and admittedly interesting concept, but messy execution keeps it from reaching its true potential. If you’re a fan of first-person, narrative-driven games with exceptionally weird plots, you’ll likely enjoy what Metamorphosis has to offer. However, the middling puzzles, uninteresting main characters, and occasional technical issues weigh the experience down. Overall, there are seven chapters to play through, which should take you anywhere from 3 to 5 hours to complete. It’s a brief and psychedelic journey with plenty of flaws, but still worth trying it it sounds interesting to you.
The performance issues noted in this review (chunky frame-rate, notable slowdown, mediocre visuals) were only encountered on a standard Xbox One console. Metamorphosis runs much, much better on a high-end PC or the PlayStation 4, so you should take that into consideration before purchasing. Simply put, we do not recommend playing Metamorphosis on a standard Xbox One. If this review only considered the Xbox One version of the game, it would receive a lower score. However, we believe that the score listed below is an accurate representation of Metamorphosis on most platforms.
Note: This game was reviewed on Xbox One using a review code supplied by the publisher.