Reviewed April 2016
Derrick Casey, Librarian
Memphis College of Art
SURREALISTa is the latest project in development from fine art game developer Gigoia Studios that provides an interactive, virtual experience based on the works of the metaphysical painter and Surrealist precursor Giorgio de Chirico. The game, while currently in an unfinished, alpha release, still provides an intriguing experience for those who want to critically engage in the art of de Chirico in a new way. Gigoia Studios has made the game available for PC, Mac, or Linux using a pay-what-you-want model upon download, including the option to play for free.
SURREALISTa begins atop a tower where a mysterious voice over talks of the Great Tower, music, and warns the player character not to get lost in their own creation. From there, the player, from a first-person perspective, is indirectly tasked with traversing the fantastical environments that make up the game. After descending the tower and crossing an exterior area titled “The Grand Palai”, the player enters “The Gallery”, the central hub for the game. In the gallery, there are eight numbered doors corresponding to SURREALISTa’s levels the player must sequentially complete, each designed around a specific Giorgio de Chirico work. Levels contain a three-dimensional approximation of the space within a de Chirico painting along with extended areas based on the work. To complete each level, the player must fully explore the environment to find a switch that opens an exit back to the gallery.
Visually, SURREALISTa’s influences are apparent and deftly applied. In each modestly sized gallery level, there is one perspective that replicates the de Chirico work on which it is based. In the level “The Song of Love - 1914” the player encounters a back alley lined with arcades and an oddly skewed wall affixed with a sculpted bust, irrationally large glove, and a green, floating ball. Outside of direct representations of artwork, the game borrows colors, objects, and composition from its Surrealist influences. Environments are mysterious with large open spaces devoid of life and populated with strange objects, and at all times, the game has a canvas-like filter. The visuals combined with atmospheric sound effects, somber piano music, and mystical narration help to create a dreamlike experience for the viewer - an appropriate homage.
The developers of Gigoia Studios have laid a solid foundation for the game to continue to be built upon. However, any recommendation of the currently unfinished game must come with reservations. There are only three gallery levels available of an assumed eight, and although the current release can be experienced in approximately an hour, there is no way for the player to save their progress. The narrative, one in which omniscient narrator Anonymantus reveals information to the player character over time, is still emergent. Also, some of the game’s basic components such as textures, models, animation, and sound effects are crude and can make the game feel rough at times. SURREALISTa gives the impression that its separate elements are leading towards a unified experience, a critical viewpoint on the works de Chirico and the Surrealist Movement, but it has yet to coalesce.
Even in its current state, SURREALISTa can serve as a valuable interactive resource. At its most basic, the game is an interactive three-dimensional painting, but it also has the potential to impress upon the player the characteristics and values of the Surrealist art movement in a way that non-interactive media cannot. This resource could be successfully used by museums, galleries, or teachers who want to provide an extra dimension to the study of Giorgio de Chirico and Surrealism.