Reviewed on Xbox One
Tranquillity. The title screen of The Missing is peaceful – idyllic. The titular character J.J (Jackie Jameson) stands on a dock overlooking a serene crystal-blue lake. Pure white birds are perched atop the stern of her small boat. Upon pressing play, her (maybe) girlfriend, Emily, runs into the scene and jumps on the boat, scaring the birds away.
It’s a break in a peaceful moment, but it’s still a happy moment, and this opening segment is one of the happiest moments you’ll see for a while in The Missing. The scene on the docks transitions to J.J and Emily sharing a moment around a campfire. After that, it all goes to hell, or more specifically Limbo.
Playdead’s 2011 black-and-white platformer is obviously an inspiration for the playstyle found in The Missing. Brief moments of the game even erk back to the familiar artistic style of the game; chasing a knife-wielding reaper early on leads you to a large field of purple flowers where the background is dotted with black silhouette windmills.
In this field is where you get introduced to the main mechanic of The Missing: regeneration. Travelling through the field takes you to a large tree which, when struck by a large bolt of lightning, comes crashing down. You do narrowly escape the wooden monstrosity, but as the trunk makes contact with the ground the fire spreads, catching you in its grasp. J.J falls down to the floor, alight, and screams in pain. You live, after a resurrection involving a half-man-half-deer doctor who speaks like he’s stuck in Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge.
After this moment, The Missing spends a short while as a fairly formulaic puzzle-platformer. You walk, jump, move boxes, throw objects to get boxes down from high-up places – the usual. Even the environments you move boxes through feel flat and basic with muddy textures, wonky animations and even a large amount of hitching as the game streams in assets. In fact, in numerous ways, it sometimes reminded me of a PS3 game.
Along your way, however, you’ll come across a wooden plank teetering over the edge of a pit coated in barbs. Walking to the edge causes the platform to fall. Touching the barbs sees your libs fling off in the opposite direction. The only reasonable way to complete the puzzle? Slice off body parts until you’re nothing more than a head, utilizing your lightness to cross the platform and slide right through a small gap. Oh, and as a head you can jump. Don’t ask why.
Apart from chopping off limbs and sliding through gaps as a sloppy, bloodied head, you can do a few other things by mutilating your own body throughout the course of the game. For example, you can throw your limbs at objects, you can set yourself alight to burn down obstacles and you can get hit so hard by heavy objects that all your bones break and the world turns upside down. You know, usual stuff.
Outside of this key mechanic, a few interesting puzzles and a couple of interesting enemy designs, The Missing is fairly standard in the actual gameplay department. It’s fun; more often than not I found myself thinking of it more as a catalyst to carry the game’s narrative and the more I played through The Missing, the more I found that to be true.
J.J’s story is a deep and tragic one. It’s a tale of finding your true self and learning to accept who you are. I won’t spoil it, it’s a story you’ll have to play through for yourself, but as you move through the game’s grotesque puzzles it’s always the story that keeps you hooked. The Missing grants you with the determination to see it through unlike a lot of games, and it’s definitely a title that needs to be played from start to finish.
It only runs for about six hours in total, but they’re an important six hours that I believe should be experienced. It definitely does enough to keep you hooked throughout—the game’s collectable donuts constantly unlock new concept art and wearable outfits, and there’s even a healthy amount of post-game unlockables such as cheats and a music player.
The Missing is a good game with a unique mechanic (although I too remember Rebellion’s NeverDead) that houses a fantastic and touching story. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a game that will stay with you for years to come.