Overall Score 80%
Running through life, chasing new sensations, new passions, never looking back. No time to waste on looking at the past. No time to stop and rest. And then one day you look up at a bicycle wheel spinning in the air. You've been in an accident - or at least, you think you have. Everything is confused. You don't even know who you are any more. Is this death? You try to focus on the fragments of your memories. What's real? What's not? What do you focus on, what is important? And, by defining your past, can you ensure you have a future?
Retention is a very different style of game. There are few controls and fewer instructions - your life is presented as a series of still frames. Each moment of your life has three possibilities, and you are to select the important ones. But which are they? By going back through your life and making those choices, you'll change the outcome of the accident. What matters to you most of all? Will you focus on the vivid memories, or try to construct a narrative? You have just 630 heartbeats to make your decisions (about ten and a half minutes in real terms). Plenty of time for reflection.
Ordinarily I'd now go through the various aspects of the game and describe each in turn. I'm not sure I can do that here. It's so different that I cannot see how to begin! I can't really talk about difficulty, as this doesn't apply. It's ludicrously simple - just select one picture from three for every moment in your life. Every picture tells a story, and not necessarily the one you'd expect. Once you've selected them all, or when time runs out, you'll see the ending you've achieved.
Graphics consist mostly of photographs. I'm not sure if these are stock photos or the work of the developer, or maybe a mixture, but they are all high quality images. Even those with blurs and distortions are deliberately so. It makes it rather difficult to rate Retention graphically as I can't really award points for these! Instead I've focused on the overall style, which is simple and effective, and the method of displaying these images, which is rather clever. The images to choose from are all monochrome, but jump into colour as you hover the mouse over them. Your life is displayed as a roll of camera film along the top of the screen, with every fifth frame clearly numbered, and you can scroll through them with mouse or arrow keys. Frames you've selected are marked with a plus symbol.
Sound effects are understandably minimal, with camera clicks accompanying mouse clicks. The real sound is the background music, in the form of several trance-like tracks that are both relaxing and haunting. The soundtrack album is included with the game (and I'm seriously considering adding it to my iPod) and there's a chance to get a limited edition CD copy.
I found the time limit imposed very generous and have not yet failed to make my selections within the time (and I didn't just click through randomly, either). It's surprisingly compulsive. My biggest gripe would be with the slide selection - you need to click through them all one at a time, and it's a long way back to the beginning. A faster way to scroll through would be welcome (even just being able to hold down a button). As it is, you can choose pictures in any order - which is good - but it's very easy to miss one and then have to go through the whole sequence looking for it.
Retention features eight possible endings to aim for, including four "good" and four "bad". I don't yet know what all the endings are and I'm not entirely clear how they work - there are four screens, which you can view by clicking on the buttons along the bottom, and I think each can be one of two endings (eg. happy/sad). You'll know which are which because the "good" ones are white and the "bad" ones are black. There is thus some replay value in trying for different endings, and I'm also aware that it's remarkably relaxing. Sometimes You have found themselves a unique genre and would do well to explore it further.
Which choices lead to which endings is not necessarily clear. I'm curious about whether there's a psychological tool in here somewhere, a means to measure mood or personality. Are your memories happy or sad? Are you surrounded by friends, or alone? Is everything bright and colourful, or grey and monochrome? This is very powerful - the memories that we retain shape our outlook on life, and Retention's closing comments - that perhaps we should take out our photo albums and spend ten minutes looking through our own memories - are something that we should perhaps act on more often. Today we all carry a camera on us pretty much all the time - our mobile phones - and maybe we should use them a little more often. Life moves on, things change. Today's joy will not last. Capture it while you can.
Keywords: retention review, sometimes you reviews, sometimes you games, retention scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.