I just got done playing the pay-what-you-want game Voice of Vamana on Itch.io. I have a lot of feelings about this game, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to put all of them into words. Gamer be warned: Voice of Vamana is not for the action fan. It is a stark journey that, as pretentious as it always sounds when said, is often more about what isn’t currently happening than what is.

vov2It starts in an open docking port of a spacecraft. You look out into the empty universe—everything is spinning. The stars and a peach-colored sun swirl around you. You make the jump; you’re floating into the unknown. A second unidentified ship is seen a distance away, and judging from the fuzzy radio messages you’re receiving through your left ear, your mission is to investigate.

Drifting from your ship to the alien craft is a test in patience, as it takes a full 5 minutes to make the trip. This was a smart test to have at the beginning of the game on the developer’s part, because the entire game is a test of patience in some ways, so it’s best to weed out the jittery ones straight away.

voice of vamanaThe inside of the alien craft is a masterpiece in loneliness. It’s dark, gray, empty, huge. Ominous. While playing Voice of Vamana I found out that I have a preexisting bias when it comes to big, minimalist level design. I automatically assume that it means the game will be uninteresting, that it was poorly planned, that it is unfinished. Voice of Vamana showed me that this did not have to be true. The hugeness and emptiness of the ship fostered a strange balance between nervousness and meditation. Yes, there were large gaps between events at times, but the wait only served to make each payoff more meaningful. And despite the simplicity of the structures, even small variations made each new path and area interesting. I suppose that is the real power of subtlety—when your scope is small, when stimulation is suspended and withheld, then our perception of things that may have otherwise seemed small grow to monstrously larger proportions. Everything is relative.

voice of vamanaBut don’t think there aren’t frightening moments in the game. Don’t be fooled into believing it’s all drab wandering. If you’re vibing with the atmosphere at all you’re going to always be at least at a slow idle of terror—a dormant fear that comes with being alone in a massive labyrinth. But the more you learn about how things work on the ship, the more you are forced to concede that nothing makes sense here, and you are very much in danger of being churned up in the madness of this awful, empty place.

Conclusion: This game is quite an experience for the right type of person. Excellent music, haunting atmosphere, unbeatable price 😉 If you need consistent action or complex gameplay to enjoy a game, then you’re likely not going to have a good time with it. But if you’re a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the novel House of Leaves and can hang with a game entrenched in subtlety and minimalism, then I recommend VoV wholeheartedly.

Here’s a full gameplay of Voice of Vamana, start to finish. I decided to nix narration and focus on the pure experience. But if any of this sounds interesting, I recommend playing it for yourself by downloading it here.