A Fold Apart review: puzzling over the problems of a long-distance relationship

There should probably be a trigger warning at the start of A Fold Apart. The game picks through the painful emotions inherent in a long-distance relationship, and there were a few parts that brought bittersweet memories of my own experiences rushing back. If you’ve ever tried to maintain a relationship with someone else in another town, county or even country, you’ll recognise the long bouts of loneliness and terse text messages that A Fold Apart unflinchingly presents.

God, long-distance relationships are shit, aren’t they? It boils down to two people feeling lonely pretty much all the time, with the added bonus that well-meaning texts can be wildly misinterpreted. A Fold Apart explores this last part in an all-too-real way, with the characters taking it in turns to be thrown into despair by a text message they interpret as criticism or an admission that the relationship isn’t working, prompting them to plod hopelessly through a series of paper-folding puzzles.

Oh yes, the puzzles. Here’s the thing: A Fold Apart is actually a puzzle game about folding the screen to create a route through to reach a star. This has absolutely nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. It’s kind of odd, but then again it isn’t the first time a puzzle game has tried to add in a story to justify its existence (Crystal Crisis is another one that springs to mind). And the puzzles themselves are actually pretty good.

The main mechanic involves folding the screen to allow the character to reach platforms that are on the other side of the ‘paper’. You can flip the paper/screen to see the other side at any time, and some puzzles require you to fold it more than once to get to your goal. At first I was a bit sceptical that this mechanic would stretch to an entire game, but I was pleasantly surprised as the levels gradually introduced some enjoyable complexity with the addition of things like movable blocks and the ability to rotate the paper or fold it from a corner.

Nevertheless, it still felt like the difficulty was pitched a little too low, even with the added bells and whistles. And just at the point when things were finally starting to get a bit head-scratchy, the game ended. It’s not even that long either – I finished the whole thing in just under three hours. I’ve not got anything against short games per se, and in fact I welcome them these days as my free time has become more and more constrained, but it felt like A Fold Apart ended just when it was starting to get going, just as all the various elements had finally fallen into place.

Yet, oddly, at the same time, I felt like it dragged on for a bit too long. After the third or fourth time that a character misinterpreted a text and trudged off in a mope, I found myself emitting a sigh and wishing that they’d just have a massive argument or split up with each other, anything but these endless screens of tiresome introspection. I think that long-distance relationships are definitely a worthy topic for games to explore, but by about halfway through, A Fold Apart was treading over the same old ground again and again. I was waiting for something to happen, like one of the pair getting a bit flirty with a co-worker to assuage the loneliness, or one arriving on a surprise visit only to find that the other wasn’t as pleased to see them as they’d hoped. In the end we just get a series of fairly mawkish text conversations and the obligatory happy ending, which left me feeling a bit short changed.

Still, A Fold Apart did make me reflect on the whole notion of long-distance relationships, firing up some long-dormant neurons and making me pause to think about my own experiences. As the game points out in a very roundabout and long-winded way, the whole trouble with a long-distance relationship is that it inherently means that the thing you moved away for – whether it’s a job, a city or something else – is more important to you than the person you’re going out with. And moving back to be near to your other half also means that you’re giving up something else that you love, like that sweet promotion on the other side of the country, which itself can cause tension. A Fold Apart ends with the Hollywood moment of a couple reunited, but I was more interested in the ‘I gave up that job for you’ arguments that would inevitably follow.

I guess what I’m saying is that although I enjoyed A Fold Apart, and although some of those text conversations felt uncomfortably familiar, ultimately it opts for a fairly simplistic take both with its puzzles and with its plot. And that means in the end it’s somewhat insubstantial and unfulfilling – not unlike the subject matter it explores.

A Fold Apart was developed by Lightning Rod Games, and is available on PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Apple Arcade, PC, Mac, and Switch. We played the PC version.

Disclosure statement: review code for A Fold Apart was provided by Evolve PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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