The Forever Labyrinth Brings Art History to Life In An Intriguing Adventure Game
The world’s strangest museum tour.
“We are now at the far end of time. Humanity is gone.”
Spoken by a mysterious robed figure in a supernatural art gallery, that’s the premise of the latest game from Inkle. As the developer of the recent short adventure A Highland Song, Inkle is known for crafting ambitious narrative adventures set in intriguing locales. Its previous games have tasked players with embarking on globe-trotting journeys and deciphering ancient language. Now, in a partnership with Google, Inkle’s The Forever Labyrinth takes players to a maze beyond time where the secret to escaping lies in art from across human history.
The Forever Labyrinth was a surprise even to Inkle fans. Teased for the first time on January 30 and released two days later, The Forever Labyrinth is a free adventure game set in an endless, shifting space. A single playthrough can take under an hour, but it takes multiple runs to see the whole picture, and since it’s played right in your browser, it’s ideal to pick up for even just a few minutes at a time to add a bit of intrigue to your day.
At the start of The Forever Labyrinth, you’re whisked into a strange maze through a painting while you’re searching for your friend, Professor Sheldrake. Through the painting’s portal, you find yourself in a garden with high stone walls, surrounded by more art. Soon, you meet a mysterious figure who slowly unfolds the labyrinth’s true nature to you, including the beast stalking its halls that threatens to destroy far more than the maze itself.
Playing The Forever Labyrinth is simple. As you click your way through the labyrinth, you’ll come across notes and other items, from wine bottles to iron keys, left by Sheldrake and the maze’s other strange inhabitants. Some of those will open paths to new rooms right away, but the most important things you’ll find are ideas.
Each room in the labyrinth is filled with paintings and photos organized around certain themes that can be as broad as “vastness” or “families,” or as simple as “hats.” Once you know the name of a room, finding a painting that represents its core idea will immediately teleport you there.
It’s a stripped-down version of the kind of gameplay Inkle has perfected over the years, with writing as good as you’d expect from the studio. The art that adorns the walls of The Forever Labyrinth is where the Google collaboration comes in. Every piece you see in the game is chosen from a collection gathered by Google Arts & Culture from museums around the world. It’s as impressive of a selection as you’d expect from an organization with 3,000 museums contributing. Along with famous works like “The Starry Night,” I immediately started seeing interesting pieces I’d never even heard of. The collection represents a huge span of time and subject, from 200-year-old landscapes to Life nature photos, postage stamps, and magazine covers.
You can zoom in on a high-quality scan of any work that catches your eye, and every piece you find is saved in a gallery to enjoy later. From the gallery, you can follow a link to any work’s page on the Google Arts & Culture website for more information, including which real-world collection the original piece belongs to.
Outside of the art, The Forever Labyrinth’s world is rendered in black and white, and its art has a satisfyingly scratchy ink pen quality to it. While you start in the kind of stone-walled space you probably think of when you hear “labyrinth,” the maze isn’t restricted to the rules of actual space. Opening a door in the labyrinth could just as easily lead you to a beach or the roof of a high-rise as to another dark stone chamber.
If The Forever Labyrinth were just a digital art museum, it would still be worth exploring. After just a few minutes of playing, I’d already bookmarked a dozen different artworks that I wanted to come back to later. But the game’s structure means The Forever Labyrinth is more than just a gallery, it’s an encouragement to think about the art’s meaning, its connection to other pieces, and the themes that vastly different works have in common. Just by putting a name to its collections, The Forever Labyrinth invites you to see all the ways artists have been inspired to portray the same thing in vastly different ways — even if that common theme is as silly as “beards.”
The Forever Labyrinth is available to play for free in web browsers.
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