Even at first glance, Judith is incredibly difficult to place on the gaming spectrum – sporting decidedly retro, faux-3D graphics (reminiscent of the ‘3D-Maze screensaver that we used to stare so much at on Windows 95) and “there but not really there” adventure gameplay, it already steps outside the bounds of what we’ve come to expect from a game. The truth is it’s really not a ‘game’ by general definition, but rather an interactive story withsome input from the player.
In all fairness, though, the game doesn’t pretend to be there for so-called “gameplay”, even though it does try to fit it in (barely); Judith is all about story and atmosphere. From the get-go you find yourself in a very mysterious world, with characters that make you feel unsure. The melodious piano music playing in the background, combined with the claustrophobic environment you wander around in, creates a perpetual state of unease that just won’t go away. Trust me, even after the game is finished (and it isn’t really that long), you’ll still have a weird feeling in your gut.
But for all its atmospheric and narrative achievements, it’s really difficult to not feel cheated by Judith. Basically all you get to do, as the player, is wander about as the story unfolds, maybe picking up a few items here and there and doing something with them; to call it a ‘puzzle’ would be misleading, as the ‘solution’ is pretty much laid out for you. It’s the equivalent of being in the passenger seat in an Audi R8 – you feel everything that lies under the engine, but you’re never really in control of anything. Sure, the driver lets you play with some of the buttons on the dashboard every now and then – but that doesn’t make you a driver.
As a work of art, Judith is in a word, awesome. The atmosphere of anxiety it creates, and the way it feeds the player on through the narrative to satiate their unrelenting curiosity, is an incredible feat in game-design. The real question is would Judith have achieved this same effect if the entire game were, say, a cut-scene? I would argue that it would.
Judith is a prime example of how narrative style and atmospheric techniques can affect the players playing a game; it’s enticing, chilling and intriguing. But turning the pages of a book, and filling in a missing word on a few pages, doesn’t equate to playing a game.
This is something to be experienced, not played.