Lattice 200EC7 (a horridly obscure PlayStation shooter) begins on a dark blue title screen, the name presented in a digital font. Standing behind those letters are two elements in particular: three hypnotic circles slowly rotating, and giant metal bars that infrequently shoot off into the back of the screen. Within its first few minutes, Lattice creates an uncomfortable dissonance as it tries to pull my attention in two opposite directions. And accompanying these visuals is complete silence, broken only by the grating drum rolls you create by navigating the on-screen options. So it appears that the game has no interest in resolving that tension any time soon.
As abstract as that might sound, it’s honestly the best way I could think of to describe this game. Of course, that might have something to do with Lattice being an inherently abstract game. It defies simple description. In this game, you find yourself quickly ferried along square metal space rails as the game tasks you with breaking open colored capsules and using the colors within to open the gates that lead to the end of each level. I should mention that the game doesn’t explicitly tell you any of this. It mistakenly trusts you with figuring this out for yourself based on an equally abstract cinematic at the beginning of each level.
So with little else to do but but spin along the rails, it’s natural to turn your attention to the game’s aesthetic. The game visuals sport a surreal yet calculated, scientific look with an earthy hint in places. It’s an aesthetic that exists more for some sort of vague sensory pleasure than something to be rationally understood. Now that could have been one of the game’s strengths if the game was actually pleasing to the senses. But if anything, it’s downright boring. For the majority of your time with Lattice, you’ll almost exclusively see dull greys splayed atop an equally dull black backdrop. If not for how visually busy the game was, you’d swear Lattice was trying to invoke the idea of death. That’s not exactly the best image to have in your mind while playing what’s supposed to be an exciting, fast-paced video game. (I’d also mention the lack of music, but because I’m 100% certain that’s an emulation issue on my part, I’m willing to overlook that flaw.)
However, I should stress that all those points only apply when you look at the visuals in isolation. So let’s consider them in the context of the game. What happens then? Perhaps predictably, Lattice becomes a far more unified and gratifying experience. Remember that Lattice is about quickly navigating obstacles along long, square rails. The game plays a lot like a first person variant of Bit.Trip Runner, albeit with the rhythm significantly toned down in favor of straight-up challenge.
But it’s challenging in all the right ways. It demands immediacy and that you pay attention to your immediate surroundings. This kind of gameplay connotes a very strong sense of physicality as you zip through the levels; exactly what this game needs. Now the visuals aren’t at odds with what the game wants to deliver. The two are perfectly in tune with one another, the dull palette melting away as you speed through space. What’s left almost feels like a virtual amusement park ride. Can this approach work out in the long term, over the course of an entire level? I doubt it. Yet with the game focusing you on what’s happening right now, that’s not going to be much of a problem, is it?
So this in mind, why would anybody want to add shooting elements atop that kind of game? This isn’t to say that there’s no value to be found in shooters. I might even be tempted to say that the developers might have been able to work shooting into this game reasonably well. Yet as it stands, that kind of gameplay doesn’t contribute anything of value to the game as it is, largely because the shooting and navigation elements appeal to two wildly different aesthetics. The former appeals to long-term satisfaction, and the latter to short-term satisfaction.
As a result, things that were once a non-issue now become highly detrimental threats to enjoying the game. Take, for instance, navigation, IE knowing where you’re supposed to go. When the game’s only asking you to dodge obstacles, that’s not a problem. The game’s doing the navigation for you. Add a long-term goal like “find the capsule” on top of that, though, and cracks suddenly begin to form. How do you navigate this environment. How do you even tell where you are in it? Everything looks the same, so trying to figure out where you are relative to anything is incredibly difficult. Sure, you have a map, but what good is that in 3D space? Looking at the game for the shooting doesn’t help much, either, given all the technical baggage that carries with it. Not being able to dodge and aim simultaneously, for instance; or the levels swerving and bending all about.
Needless to say, these difficulties transform Lattice into a disorienting, confusing experience. What were once linear paths now become a labyrinthine hell. What were once thrilling obstacles to dodge are now annoying speed bumps between you and your objective. Don’t get me wrong; I understand why the developers chose to include these features. They lend the game form and purpose. Without them, the game would appear to lack any sort of distinct structure. The game doesn’t need structure, though. It would’ve worked perfectly fine with a purer, more physical focus.
In fact, I’m starting to doubt that structuring the entire game like this would have ever worked in its favor. Balancing might have. The final level (where you alternate between shooting a giant capsule and dodging what it throws at you) demonstrates that well enough. But trying to reconcile those two styles of gameplay into one cohesive package feels like a fool’s errand. If anything, the shooting feels like a concession: something to legitimize Lattice as being a game, even if it only leads to an almost painful time with the game. Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe this is the kind of game whose appeal has to grow on you, or that other people are more willing to enjoy. In my experience, at least, that wasn’t the case. I only saw a game that shifted from dissonant to unified and back to dissonant again.