Games has long taught anyone who isn’t someone’s mother for years now that they are capable of telling complex stories covering taboo topics and often impart a real sense of emotion. For examples look no further than Spec Ops: The Line which explores the horrors of war through the eyes of a deluded man or Gone Home which explores themes of sexual identity and the effect it has on those around you. Despite how you feel about these games in general you have to admit that the writers of the game are ambitious and are at least seeking to tell an underutilised story that will have players come away from these titles with something to think about. Massira is not one of these.
It’s often considered a bad idea to summarise a game in one sentence but when I finished Massira the only thing that kept coming to my mind when people asked me what I thought of it was ‘tone-deaf’ it’s a story that needs to be told, going through the life and journey of a refugee from Syria as they escape their war torn land to the safety of Europe (good luck there) but instead of being faced with the grim and depressing reality that many people in the middle east actually live in but instead of that we get puzzle platforming where you can navigate a bazar by jumping on giant mushrooms and leave a refugee camp by floating on a platform up a mountain.
The best games use the gameplay to assist in the telling of the story which is why I personally find a lot of walking simulator games to be very shallow experiences, the reason why journey is so beautiful is because you climbed that mountain step by step, the reason why Spec Ops is so horrifying is because you chose to end those lives, the reason why BioShock is so much of a mind fuck is because you followed without question because an objective marker told you to, Massira has none of this, the gameplay is far removed from the story and it manages the amazing feat of actually making the story seem like a joke.
Immediately after you finish the first mission which involves you running through the bombed out streets of Syria you walk up to the guys you have spent the entire level running from as if your character completely forgot about the whole thing and then they get arrested at which point you have to orchestrate a prison break bearing in mind you are a 7 or so year old girl and this game is meant to be a look into the horrors of a war from the eyes of an innocent child. And if we’re playing a game through the eyes of a child you know what that means, you experience the game in a dreamlike haze which makes everything around you come off as goofy and ultimately disconnected to the story of the actual event going on around you.
This review has actually been quite a task to complete because as much as this title fails to appropriately tell the story it’s still a story that needs to be told but it’s a shame that it was wasted on what can only be described as a mess.