The somewhat jokingly but later canonically termed “Walking Simulator” genre gets a lot of flak for being a lot of nothing. Walking Sims are filled with games such as Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, games which contain little more gameplay or story than what the title will already tell you. But people often forget that this genre also contains gems such as The Stanley Parable, arguably a masterpiece by the common standard.
I wouldn’t call Kairo a masterpiece. And I wouldn’t call it a brilliant game. But I certainly wouldn’t call it a waste of time, either.
Kairo utilises abstraction to maintain the player’s interest in their surroundings as they traverse the simplistic but highly atmospheric world. The game benefits highly from not attempting to shove a narrative down your throat, opting to instead let you explore at your own pace and leisure. There’s plenty of narrative to be soaked up in secrets, pictures, environments and the odd set-piece, but you could – if you wanted – ignore all of these things entirely, and it would not impact your ability to enjoy this game.
I suppose I am cheating somewhat by discussing Kairo like it’s purely a Walking Sim. The game is actually a puzzler, containing many rooms that don’t tell you what to do, simply leaving you to work it out as if you truly were a wanderer coming across these bizarre places for the first time. If you really do get stuck, the developers had the foresight to add a hints screen in the pause menu, and even they don’t give everything away if you choose to read all three levels of hint. There’s also no penalty for reading them, in achievements or otherwise.
The game itself is fairly short. I finished it in around three hours, not accounting for collectables. And while I’m sure that there’s a full story in there somewhere, I personally couldn’t garner anything from the conclusion as to what was happening or what I’d ultimately done besides just turning things on. But I had a good, satisfying time completing the puzzles before me and admiring the abstract, boxy world.
There are a few rooms that aren’t linked to the overall completion of the game, containing no hints and straying from the typical logic followed by the main puzzles. There’s achievements that these seem to be tied to, so I look forward to returning to the game and figuring them out. I always welcome a game that gives you something to do after you’ve effectively beaten it; it adds to the sense of a wider world as you make your way to the end.
The default price is £4.00, so if that’s too much for you to spend on a Walking Sim / Puzzle game that lasts a few hours (as it is for me), then wait for it to appear in a bundle or dip down to a pittance in a sale. But if you’re looking for a calm, perplexing experience, Kairo is a safe bet.