Review: The Beginner's Guide (Computer)

The Beginner's Guide: Member Review

Computer 923 views 5 likes 0 comments
Reviewed by Alex McAuliffe, posted Dec 29, 2015
I saw this weird little "game" in the Steam queue during the sale. As it was made by the creator of The Stanley Parable, and the Steam reviews were... weird to say the least, it piqued my interest. What came out of it was a very thoughtful hour and a half. Since I feel like so few have experienced this title, I thought I would share some thoughts on its content.
Dec 29, 2015
  • Release Date (NA): October 1, 2015
  • Release Date (EU): December 1, 2015
  • Publisher: Everything Unlimited Ltd.
  • Developer: Davey Wreden
  • Genres: Interactive Storytelling
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
This little-known title was made in October by the creator of The Stanley Parable. It's not so much a game as a story, about the length of a movie, told by narration and interactive games. But is the game's storytelling forced and heavy-handed, or does it provoke serious thought?
Alex McAuliffe
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Imagine receiving an email with a zip file in it. Inside of it is a folder. inside of that folder are .exe files-- tons of them. When you open them up, you find that they are all games. Tons and tons of games. Who made these games? What was this person like? What do the games mean? What was this person going through when they made these games? Why can't you complete these games? Why is there no goal?

This is The Beginner's Guide. The works of a developer who never wanted his works to be shared. The story of a recluse and the person who tried to fix him.

Not so much a game

It's probably best if this goes at the top of the review. All that cheesiness aside, this game is really short, about an hour and a half long. And it's intended to be that way-- it's clearly stated in the description on Steam. It's like a $6 movie ticket, almost.

That said, you may be thinking that a playtime of 90 minutes is way below industry standards, and you'd be right. But this is not in any way a standard game, nor should it be treated like one. The game states directly what it is and what it has set out to accomplish from the very start, and I firmly believe that this game does so very well and leaves no loose ends, even in only the short time provided. Don't be put off by this fact, and don't let it deter you from a great story.

The game doesn't have very exciting gameplay either, and it doesn't pretend to. In fact, a good chunk of the commentary focuses on how some of the games shown are not at all playable. This game is more of a work of art to be appreciated from many angles, and you shouldn't go into it expecting to end up addicted to it.

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So what is it, then?

The Beginner's Guide is an interactive story, like a visual novel but told in a unique and creative way. Davey Wreden, himself the narrator, tells the story of a young developer whose name is Coda. Davey shows the player the games that Coda has made, and talks about their meaning, the personality of Coda, and his own interpretation of the games. These small Source engine games are playable, but lack any kind of real purpose or goal, which is touched upon repeatedly in the narration.

This game shows many forms of mastery in its narration and storytelling. As you progress through the story, the player begins to realize the possibility of Davey's unreliability as a narrator. The player can realize the selfishness of Davey's actions, and can begin to distrust his interpretations. Anyway, I won't continue spoiling the story, but trust that though the game might seem to at first have a flat affect, it begins to tie together and finishes with a depressing yet satisfying ending.

The game's primary purpose is to tell an interesting and thought-provoking story, and that it does excellently. The story itself is open to interpretation, and encourages the player to think for himself rather than blindly trusting a narrator. Davey even gives the player his email at the beginning of the game with which to share one's own interpretation.

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A work of art

Although all the small games featured in this game run in the Source engine, this game is very much artistic in way of design, narration, and music. For example, lots of the games feature long, linear cubic hallways-- which seem to be a primary feature of the Source engine. The narrator comments on this commonly seen element, and talks about what it means in terms of the mental state of Coda during the development, and provides powerful insights into every tiny element in these games. It's all very thorough and creative.

There are lots of commonly shared elements in Coda's games, which leads the player to interpret each element in a specific way, and draws the player further into thinking about Coda's personality. The narration helps to maintain the player's attention and provide a kind of basic interpretation for the player to expand on.

The music also fits perfectly with the game. It's mostly made on a grand piano, with each note helping convey each emotion in a meaningful way. The music creates a kind of atmosphere for the player to be drawn into, and helps the player collect their thoughts.

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Verdict
Pros
+ Masterful storytelling
+ Unique premise
+ Powerful music
Cons
- Sometimes forced narration
- Very little actual gameplay involved
- Very short
9 Presentation
The way the game tells its story and presents Coda's games is nothing short of amazing. It hooks the player in within minutes of beginning the game and keeps the player's attention throughout the whole game up until the heart-wrenching ending. The games themselves are works of art with many layers of meaning, backed by meaningful music.
- Gameplay
I won't assign a score to the gameplay. Though this seems contradictory to the nature of this title in the fact that it is itself a video game, I feel it's a fair assessment to say that the gameplay is not intended to be an attractive feature of this game and so I will not review it.
6 Lasting Appeal
This game is really short. And while its story is amazing I can't help but feel it should have been extended to make this game more worthy of its asking price. That said, it gets extra points for being upfront about it and due to the fact that this is less of a game and more of a novel.
8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
I was pleasantly surprised by this little game, as it gave me one of the most thoughtful 90 minutes in recent memory. Sure it's short, and a little expensive considering the small amount of content, but it's really something that shouldn't be skipped. I highly recommend giving this game a try, it's worth the asking price and will keep you thinking for hours to come.
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