At any point before this year, I probably would have taken A Fold Apart as a cute puzzle game about the struggles of a long-distance relationship.
Unfortunately, this game came out in April of 2020. Playing it now, barely four months after release, amidst a pandemic, protests for racial justice, spiking unemployment, and seemingly relentless cycle of bad news, the relationship issues the game’s couple face feel quaint—even a little pathetic.
Maybe it would have felt this way regardless. After all, the events of 2020 didn’t sour me on other stories that should have hit differently. I basked in the post-apocalyptic dread of games like The Last of Us 2 and Signs of the Sojourner, despite the pre-apocalyptic stories I read every day. Why should a simple love story be any different?
But if you can muster the slightest level of emotional maturity and communication with the people you love, you too may find this pair’s “troubles” laughable.
The story involves a teacher and an architect who have to spend several months apart while the architect works on a big city project. It’s a long-distance relationship. Those ARE hard! I get that. The problem is the moment-to-moment arguments and introspective left me wishing a messy break-up on the both of them.
Plot is delivered between and on-top-of the game’s puzzles. After completing a puzzle set, you take control of one of the two characters and walk them to their next destination. As you move, text messages and internal monologues play out across the screen. What you witness is a total communication breakdown, as the two characters overthink the simplest things and fall into painfully generic roles.
A Fold Apart allows you to pick from four different arrangements of couples. The goal here is to give you a choice that represents you, but the idea falls flat in practice. The blue architect character focuses on their job and gets angry, eventually having a physical outburst. The reddish/pinkish teacher character almost texts harsh truths before erasing them and texting something softer. At one point the teacher outright lies about what they are doing.
There’s a clear masculine/feminine dynamic at play in this story that makes the cisgendered couple on the cover feel like the canonical version. What’s worse, while both characters look bad at times, I can’t help feeling that the feminine/teacher character is portrayed in the more unflattering light. The game tries to show the dynamics of a relationship from both sides, and even attempts to represent different types of couples, but it wears its male perspective on its sleeve.
It doesn’t help that the entire story is told through text messages. It’s totally normal for a couple to miscommunicate over text, to say something that isn’t exactly what they mean and cause their partner to overthink. But eventually, well before anyone is deciding it might be time to break up or leave their job, there’s going to be a phone call or two to clear the air.
A Fold Apart is trying to tell a mature, adult story, but by boiling it down to simplistic terms, the end result just made me angry and frustrated. I ended up hating these two characters. I wanted them to leave each other, if only because that seemed like a more interesting direction. I only stuck with the game because the puzzles were decent.
Each puzzle takes place on a 2D plane, almost like the page of a book that you can flip around to look at the other side. At any point you can make folds that collapse the environment or pull the player character to the other side of the page. A bottomless pit on one side of the page could be folded to connect a path across from the other side of the page. And it only gets more complicated from there.
The mechanic works surprisingly well, even if it can feel a bit glitchy and inconsistent at times. But my biggest issue with the puzzles came from the random difficulty spikes that left me stumped for 10-15 minutes at a time. They’d appear sandwiched between two puzzles that took me seconds to complete. The challenge doesn’t ramp up smoothly, despite the game layering on new mechanics as you go.
This led to several periods where I was both frustrated with the puzzles and hating on the story and characters. The classic “a-ha” moments were there and they were fun to experience, but in the end I came away from the game happy to have it over with.
It’s not like you can ignore the story and just take it as a puzzle game either. The relationship woes are all over the game, down to angry text exclamations falling into place as you make progress within a puzzle. You’d have to really be in the mood for this kind of story, and whether it’s the times we live in that are to blame or not, I wasn’t having it.