The Angelic Architect in Splice
Splice is perhaps the first bildungsroman story told strictly through puzzle elements where the main character is none other than God himself. Religious games have been around for a long time — for example, when I was seven, I had a Math Blasters clone that taught me about Jesus — but when I say that Splice is an inherently religious game, I don’t want you to think this is anything like that. It is the antithesis of didactic, wishing instead only that you be moved by its message.
When it comes to religion, there are few times that two people will believe exactly the same thing. Even within the highly orthodox branches of the same religion, slight delineations in faith occur; and seemingly as a rule, it is impossible to have any group of humans agreeing on anything, and this is further exacerbated when that something involves faith. It is the most quintessentially personal thing that has, for much of history, been considered political. It is within this disconnect that art thrives. Art subverts theological argument and folly by letting people agree on something. Even if I disagree with you about the literal translation of scripture or the teachings of Bodhidharma, the sistine chapel or intricate woodcarvings will evoke similar senses of approaching some sense of Truth. It is within this sense of wonderment that Splice seeks to emulate.
The basic premise of the game involves twisting, cutting, and multiplying black capsules of genetic material to adhere to the “true” or “evolved” shapes the genes are supposed to take. The capsules of genetic material are suspended in a clean backdrop of primordial ooze which changes color and intensity from one stage to the next, all while overlayed with a constant gentle melodious piano solo, unique to each stage and named after angels of various religions.
The aesthetic effect is a calming insouciance, which is especially critical in a game as mind-bendingly tough as Splice. I have played many puzzlers, but never have I hit a brick wall as hard as I did with this game. Spending ten minutes staring at something that seems relatively easy gets indelibly frustrating, but the soothing minimalist stylings, there was never a feeling that this was never going to be solved. Indeed, there is a sensation interlayed throughout these proceedings that I can only compare with a zen quality of intense prayer. A sort of detachment sets in while you are working out the ways that the genes will separate and evolve, but there is never a feeling of angst in this that I get from other puzzles of doing something wrong or that I was going down the wrong path.
There are two ways that Splice accomplishes this. The first is by making rewinding moves and even restarting entire puzzles as simple as zipping up on your mouse wheel, and the second is by making the puzzles solvable in only a handful of moves. Seeing a chain reaction form as your genes split into perfect sequences is a triumphant experience that feels as though you are breathing life into the figure itself. Similarly, when you do manage to work out a puzzle, you get a satisfying “snapping” of the genes into place and a triumphant woosh up to the next level, inviting you to solve the next evolution of your mass of genomes.
I found that the best way for me to complete puzzles was a sort of determined trial and error, based not in trying to decipher moves ahead of time, but instead in simply seeing each puzzle as something that can be worn down through persistence. A sort of bumbling mess of experimentation, without the harness of time or space, but only the mess of black specks that I was determined to forge into a predetermined shape.
“Splice is post-modern religious art — implying some sort of intelligence, but not forcing it upon you.”
Much like Cypher Prime’s other games, Splice is as much an experiment in puzzle creation as it is in aesthetic individualism. Couched in these aesthetics is the hinting of something more angelic. The other thing that strikes me as so beautiful about this game is the way that the game insinuates meaning without the need of a belabored narrative. Meaning is instead implied through the sheer act of what you are doing, installing you as the intelligent actor evolving genetic structures. Splice makes you the angel, calmly starting strands of life, and watching them evolve. Splice is post-modern religious art — implying some sort of intelligence, but not forcing it upon you.
This is a game that implores you to experience it as much as play it, which, depending on your countenance, is either exactly what you’re looking for, or exactly not what you want. Much like its aesthetic spirituality, it gives you the truth of itself, and does not shy away from its detractors. It is made to make you feel that Truth that religious art of the past sought to imply, but it does not subscribe to a single doctrine. Splice is a game that makes you think again about religion, god, and angels without having a single cross or wing-clad entity in it at all. In Splice, you are God. And when you are God, faith is what you make of it.