Mosaic is a fairly ambitious and totally unique experience. I refrain from using the word “game” as there is very little here that resembles a conventional video game by any definition of the word. If I had to guess I would have sworn this was made by a French developer; it has that look and feel about it much like the classic Out of this World and Flashback games, only this was conceived and developed in Norway by Krillbite Studio.
If you thought your life was boring and routine just wait until you step into the shoes of the nameless protagonist in Mosaic. You’ll be playing a corporate drone, one of thousands who makes their way to work each day in a tower of computer cubicles to crunch numbers and reach their milestones. When the story begins you wake up to start your workday with an alert from the office saying that if you are late five more times you will be terminated. And therein lies your entire premise for the game; getting to work on time which, due to the very nature of life and scripted events outside of your control is an impossibility. With only five days left of employment let’s make the most of it, shall we?
Mosaic establishes a pattern of behavior for our hero; starting the day with fixing your hair, straightening your tie, and brushing your teeth. We are never meant to question why he never showers or changes the same work clothes he wears to bed at night. Each day the bills on the kitchen table pile higher and his refrigerator remains mostly empty. A quick check of his banking records clearly shows he’s spending more than he makes – yep; this is life. You’d think by sleeping in your work clothes and not showering you could get to work on time but there are so many other distractions between the office and your apartment building that is home to an insane amount of people – look at all those mailboxes – and even though you routinely check your own there is nothing but past due bills inside.
Your five commutes to work vary in length and complexity. The first day you arrive at work by merely leaving your building while other trips will involve all sorts of clever distractions. Personally, I blame the talking goldfish found in your sink every morning after brushing your teeth; a fish that will haunt you whether you take him along for a ride in your shirt pocket or flush him down the toilet. Curiosity is the enemy in this game; as you fall prey to back alley distractions, an open gate, a taunting butterfly, a flock of pigeons, and a quartet of street musicians that you will encounter individually on your daily walks to work.
The interesting thing about your commutes is just how long and involved they are, but each day manages to showcase a specific part of that journey while fast-forwarding through the stuff you’ve already done. One day you might make it to the metro station before dissolving into the white light that transitions you to the office, and then the next you’ll actually get to ride that metro train and see what happens next. Every day is its own mini-adventure, but it always ends up at your desk where it’s time to work.
Your actual job is represented with a fairly simple and somewhat enjoyable mini-game that requires you to build a path from a starting location to your milestone goal using resources that spawn from generators along the bottom and travel through a honeycomb construct to build new hexagons to reach your goal. It’s impossible to explain with words, but it all boils down to acquisition through superior numbers, and the ways to get those numbers from the bottom of the screen to the top get more strategic with each new day.
Another key element in Mosaic is your smartphone; so key in fact that all of the Steam achievements in Mosaic focus on the BLIP-BLOP game preinstalled on your phone. The very nature of this game pokes insightful fun at just how low mobile games and their players have sunk. In this game you simply tap a button as fast as you can to increase your point total. You can then spend those points in the app store to purchase boosters that allow you to earn more points more quickly. The game is a great analogy that mirrors the futility of the game and our character’s mundane life. Over the course of the five days you will be able to download and use other apps like a dating app that will rapidly tally just how many people really “dislike” you. There is even a crypto-currency app where you can buy low and sell high to make some virtual money.
Mosaic has a fantastic visual presentation that suits the mood perfectly with its depressing blues, greys, and blacks. There always seems to be the threat of rain at any given moment as hinted by the umbrella by your door, and in those rare scenes of sunlight where oranges and yellows fill the screen, you get a genuine sense of warmth and comfort. There is great use of lighting and shadows and some remarkable camera work that dynamically pans around the scenery to focus and guide you on your journey. The camera even becomes part of the game design as you unlock the ability to change perspective and rotate the camera to find new angles that allow you to progress the journey.
One of the best moments early in the game is where the camera pulls back clear across the street to a construction site. I see my character, now very tiny in the background, but now I am controlling this yellow butterfly in the foreground. Perspective plays into scale as well when the camera pulls out leaving us to navigate the city skyline, as buildings rise and fall to create our path along the rooftops. There are numerous more examples but I don’t want to spoil them. Mosaic is oddly silent throughout with only minimal sound effects and occasional bits of score to enhance the mood.
The game scales nicely to a variety of PC specs. My 2080ti was clearly overkill for this game and was able to run Mosaic at 4K with max settings; although given the nature of the art style 1080p would be just as good. Everything was crisp, smooth, and clean with no jaggies and super-smooth panning and animations. Controls were perfect using a gamepad or you can choose to play with a mouse and point and drag to move then interact with the mouse button. The keyboard is not used other than to hit ESC to access the menu or quit the game.
Mosaic really doesn’t have a story, so I’m not sure if I truly understood the ending of the game or if there even is one. A lot of this game is left open to interpretation, both while you’re playing and in the discussions that will follow after the credits have rolled. Mosaic is like a piece of art, meant to spark your imagination and emotions. Putting a price on that is tough, and while $20 might seem a bit high for a 2-4 hour experience with no replay value I personally enjoyed every minute spent in Mosaic. I’ll admit to spending way more time on BLIP-BLOP than I should have, and even then I only got about half of the achievements. There is one achievement for playing this button-clicker for an hour straight.
For those of you looking for something special, original, and emotionally insightful then I can totally recommend Mosaic, but more casual gamers looking for a more traditional adventure game will probably want to wait for a significant sale or maybe skip entirely and watch somebody else play it. Personally, I thought the game was brilliant.