Thirty Flights of Loving from Blendo Games, is a hard game to write about, if only because you could complete the game in the time it takes you to read this. That’s not to say playing it (or reading this article) isn’t worth your time – quite the opposite – but it’s an observation I can’t help but make. Where most games are measured in hours, and some even in hundreds of hours, Thirty Flights of Loving can be measured in minutes, but it’s still the most emotionally moving game I’ve played in a long time, and the fact that it can be that, whilst also being so short is a true testament to Blendo’s story-telling prowess.
Considering the length of the game, it should be assumed that everything after this point is a SPOILER, and you should go and play it before reading on… You have been warned.
Graphically, Thirty Flights of Loving is heavily stylised. The characters are all made up of as few polygons as possible, with simple but distinctive skins. Right from the start this helps to put you in the right headspace for what is coming, because it tells you instantly that this is something other. This isn’t a AAA game with photorealistic graphics that cost too much money for any risks to have been taken; this is a small, intimate project and the creators have more to say than “Look at my shinies, look at them shine”.
The setting is largely timeless, with no element dating it beyond ‘sometime between 1930 and 2000’, and it also feels vaguely surreal. The balloon-mounted drones are the best example of this – the thoroughly-modern obsession with surveillance married to a 1930s aesthetic.
You play as one part of a criminal trio, and the first time you meet your partners in crime you’re treated to a series of quick cuts showing their specialties. I can’t think of any other game that has tried this before, but here it works. Anita is a demolitions expert, mechanic and sharp shooter, but she’s also a confectioner. Borges is a forger, a safe cracker and a pilot, but he’s also the best man. It’s these final facets of their identities that tell us the most about Thirty Flights of Loving – this is a story about people. They might be blocky and mostly silent, but they’re already more human than the heroes and companions of most other games out there.
The environments are all what Warren Ellis would call super-post-modern spaces – places designed to be moved through, not lived in – a secret hideout, an unfurnished apartment, an airport, a highway. This seems like a stupidly obvious thing to say when discussing a video game, but it feels important here, because it isn’t the moving through places that is important in TFOL, a fact emphasised by the use of quick cuts between areas, flashbacks and flashforwards. It’s a game steeped in the aesthetics and storytelling tools of film – Besson not Bay – but unlike most wannabe “cinematic” games, it never takes control away from the players.
…And I don’t know what any of those words mean, but I’m just trying to make sense of what is a surprisingly emotional game; I’ve played Thirty Flights of Loving three times, and that ending still hits me like a fist to the gut. And that’s not even to mention the heartache I felt in the lead-up to the end; I won’t spoil it, because it’s subtle and I only saw it on my second playthrough, but… man.
Thirty Flights of Loving is an absolute masterclass in storytelling in videogames. No, fuck that. Thirty Flights of Loving is an absolute masterclass in storytelling, period.
If you went to any number of forums, I’m sure you’d find people complaining about the length of TFOL, but I can’t remember the last time a game affected me as deeply – and I’m certain no game has ever affected me after only 10 minutes in its world.
I want to recommend Thirty Flights of Loving to everyone, but I know most gamers won’t appreciate it. It’s profoundly moving, utterly understated, surreal and human; it is everything that we need games to strive towards for the sake of the medium.