Far from the playing rhythm of a Guitar Hero complementary group pack, the party-game antics of Just dance, or the sci-fi race of Invector Avicii, Radiohead Kid A Mnesia: Exhibition offers a surprisingly visceral, albeit dark, exploration of a pioneering moment in the band’s history.
It was originally designed as a mobile physical facility, but plans were scrapped due to construction difficulties and the COVID-19 pandemic. Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich and artist Stanley Donwood weren’t dissuaded from making Something with these 21 year old musical and visual artifacts, so they worked with developers [namethemachine] and Arbitrarily Good Productions over two years to create a virtual space that could digitally reuse their ambitious ideas. The experience is now available, for free, on PlayStation and through the Epic Games Store.
For something that can be experienced in about an hour, Kid A Mnesia: Exhibition is absolutely crammed with stunning works of art and spaces taken from the recesses of the band’s previously unseen catalog, lyrics sheets and pieces of poetry by Child A and Amnesic, and works of art by Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood. You will find yourself engulfed enough in his world to sit through entire songs, as the structures transform and evolve around you. Some rooms are filled with stick figures who strive to keep the walls and windows of the exhibition clean, adding a strong metafictional element to the whole space. The other rooms are basically large-scale equalizers.
You start in the woods, which look chalky and hand drawn, and little bears with sharp teeth in the Child A cover you watch from behind the trees. After a series of Starchild-from-2001– esque hallways, you switch to a pyramid hub – which reads more like a sci-fi monolith straight out of Control. The game tells the player which songs a route will lead to, as there are several that fit together that all lead to a final credit streak – which looks and feels inspired by the side-scrolling segments of Nier: Automata – and back to the woods. The large amount of different surfaces, objects and artistic styles makes a seemingly short trip to Radiohead’s memory grand and diverse.
“The essential amount of different surfaces, objects and artistic fashions … feel big and diverse.
The quality of the music and visuals on display here is top notch (naturally), not only in the original works of art that were reproduced and essentially cropped in virtual gallery rooms, but also in the way they were enhanced into new scenes of light and texture with incredible clarity. While there are some rooms here that really feel like they’ve brought new ideas to the table that haven’t been seen in the games, there are other hallway areas that feel a bit more traditional – as if they had transferred from one of the number of first-person horror titles like Amnesia. Overall, however, I came away extremely impressed and surprised with where the game took me.
In some cases, I would have liked the game to push the boundaries a bit more with its interactivity. There is a space where you fly around waves of digitized cubes and watch them move away from you as you make contact. There is a tunnel of blue spikes that looks like the rhythmic horror game Thumper. There are other rooms, especially for the National anthem, which gives the impression that there really could have happened more. I’m not saying the game had to be Starfox 64 3D Where Loss, but later, when you pick up the phone and hear Yorke’s distorted screams through the speakerphone, it feels like there are opportunities left on the table. Likewise, there are spaces where the character can float or fly, but it often feels like you’re stuck in molasses rather than really. soaring. That said, there will be times when the game requires you to isolate specific sounds in the songs in their catalog and create a miniature epic, or recontextualize what was a quick sound effect into a surprisingly haunting and bad new sound. mood you live with in a room.
” I left extremely impressed and surprised by or the game drove me. “
The title is very clear when it is not quite a game, and, since it’s free, it’s hard to see anyone being disappointed with the exhibit. However, there could have been some improvements in the quality of life. The movement seems fluid and imprecise. The game’s frame rate is jerky in places. It may seem strange to approach these great beings or these figures who work conscientiously and to have nothing to arrive. There could have been more recognition of the player’s presence around the NPCs. Once you browse the gallery once, you will probably have to browse it again and find one of the three different main album paths. It would be nice if the game had a quick scroll feature to jump to songs / rooms. It just seems only natural for a player to feel an attachment to a particular track or visual and want to get to it instantly, adding the bit of replayability that could be added to a project like this. I would have liked more pieces where touching or approaching specific objects would elicit a variety of isolated sounds.
The exhibition is a refreshing and innovative take on the musical game genre and does not hesitate to move away from the anxious and sometimes aggressive notes of the material. In fact, it does the opposite and forces the player to embrace and absorb particular moments, almost subjugating you into feeling a specific emotional state. It alternates between freedom and strictly organized moments, and forces you to breathe the vibe of this era of the group’s creative production. Even if cranky and gloomy, it’s a balm in an era of uncertainty to play something that knows so perfectly what it is.