September 25, 2023
Rich in story and depressingly existential, [I] Doesn't Exist is a superbly introspective text adventure. The Finger Guns review:

Upon closing [I] Doesn’t Exist from Steam for what must have been my eighth playthrough, I couldn’t help but ruminate on my time with it. No matter how hard I tried, I still hadn’t found my way to one of its endings. As the in-game avatar willfully accepted its fate, so did I. It’s not very often you feel completely in tandem with the themes of a video game, but [I] Doesn’t Exist is intoxicating in its appeal.

A straightforward text-adventure title that becomes so much more than its initial appearance suggests, I discovered a surprising amount about myself just through the act of playing it. What it lacks in single-playthrough length, it more than makes up for in thematic depth and emotional connection. Very few games move me, this one certainly did.

What makes [I] Doesn’t Exist so special? Guess we’re going to have to find out. Only if you want to, of course.

>/ Use Thought

[I] Doesn’t Exist starts out cutesy enough. You move your nameless avatar through a small environment, interacting with objects in sequence to solve the puzzle. Eventually, you reach the door and prepare to leave. Normally, you’d assume at this point that you’re progressing to the next puzzle. Not so. This avatar isn’t content to allow you to control it in such a way, which is where [I] Doesn’t Exist takes its most interesting turn.

The initial section of the game relies on text inputs like [use nail] or [go to shower] as you command your digital counterpart around. As a starting puzzle, it’s pretty fun, though I did start to tire of repeating it over multiple attempts. Which, funnily enough, is quite fitting, given the game’s themes and ideas.

Quite simply, I don’t want to spoil what unfurls past that narrative beat, as it’s quite important you experience it first-hand, for yourself. Whether the avatar is querying your sense of control over it, questioning your reasoning for why you do what you do, or even just straight up telling you it doesn’t trust you, it’s a uniquely compelling character.

I was attached to it after the first playthrough, which took maybe 30-40 minutes. I even discovered you can name it, which was strangely comforting. Your relationship with the inked-out figure is the core of [I] Doesn’t Exist and it’s a hugely successful mechanism through which the game explores its ideas.

[I] Doesn't Exist review

>/ Look Around

Despite having very little experience with text adventure games, I was very impressed with how intuitive and deep the text inputs could be. Once the game opens itself up further, you’ll be able to ask all manner of philosophical questions. Not only that, you’ll be positively required to think deeply about the nature of your relationship to both your avatar and the spritely mushroom.

Acting as both a gameplay hint system and a thematically important figure, the Mushroom is just as essential to understanding [I] Doesn’t Exist. It’ll aid you with item purposes, give you encouragement and you can pet it. Let’s be honest, we all want to pet the cute mushroom, right?

So forms the game’s trio of figures: you, the player inputting commands, the avatar developing its own awareness, and the mushroom, the figure of control. In this way, the game dives head-first into themes surrounding toxic relationships, understanding hidden parts of one’s own self and reaching acceptance or repression of the parts of us we dislike.

I was often confused. More often, I was sad. Not in a “I don’t want to play this” kind of way, quite the opposite. More of a melancholic and ruminative fashion. The fact that [I] Doesn’t Exist achieves so much emotional connection in such short and limited means is hugely impressive. The more I played, the more and the less I really understood. It’s oxymoronic, but isn’t that humanity’s nature anyway?

[I] Doesn't Exist review

>/ Do You Trust Me?

The end goal of the game is to discover the various endings and see what lengths you can stretch the game to. As I mentioned at the start, [I] Doesn’t Exist is wonderfully addicting, almost forcing me back to start a new game the second the last one ended. If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that the choices are more binary than they initially appear, and I never quite worked out how the game determines the end state.

Having said that, each of the conclusions available to discover are excellent in its own right. The writing is fantastic and the meta-layers of meaning the developers piled into this package are frightening. If you haven’t questioned the nature of your own autonomy and exercise of control over others before, you most likely will after this.

It left me very reflective and had me torn over my role within the game. The choices you make, the questions you ask, the paths you’ll go down, each layer will show you a little something of your own personality. At least, that is for the first run, less so when you’re purposely exploring to get other endings, but the journey initially is introspective and engaging.

The fact that it manages to be a mirror of human behaviour without being preachy is an accomplishment in itself. The idea that I would care about a black-and-white featureless avatar over eight playthroughs? Wouldn’t have believed that for a second before. It’s a testament to the excellent writing and engrossing topics the game tackles so sufficiently.

[I] Doesn't Exist review

>/ Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

The art style is likely what will stick out to most when they first get a glimpse of [I] Doesn’t Exist and for good reason. Minimalistic, pixel-art style visuals combined with a moody, melancholic atmosphere work wonders to sell the vision of the game. Given the short run-time and limited environments you’ll actually explore, there’s not a massive amount of real estate to see, but what’s here is great.

I had the odd issue with my inputs not registering, on one occasion requiring an autosave restart, but other than that, the game runs nicely. Truth be told, though, even if it did have more technical problems, I probably wouldn’t have cared. This is a game to soak into, spend time with and think about. Not even necessarily to “beat” the game, but rather to think about your role within it.

Nothing gets me more excited about the impact of a video game than when I can shut down the console or PC and just dwell on the whole experience. What did it mean to me? Did I even understand it? This is an existential game not only in appearance but in structure and design too. Even after writing this review, I’m still keen to jump back in and see what’ll pop out for me next.

Socrates’ quote “life without experience and suffering is not life” probably encapsulates my message taken from [I] Doesn’t Exist. Most importantly, it’s purely mine. Your experience, your interpretation, your message may be entirely different. That’s the beauty of the game. It has something important and valuable to say, but with the freedom to take meaning from that something for yourself. A wonderful game I’d heartily recommend, and one that will likely be in my thinking for game of the year.

[I] Doesn’t Exist will challenge and question you in ways few video games do. Supported by wonderful writing, deep thematic topics and addictive replayability, it shines through the darkness of this poor avatar’s world. Most importantly, I came away with a genuine feeling of reflection and introspection, something that loftier, grander games have frequently failed to do. An existential gem of 2023.

[I] Doesn’t Exist is available now on PC (review platform).

Developer: LUAL Games KIG
Publisher: DreadXP

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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