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Only When Howling review - A short, contemplative piece of interactive art

For: iPad   Also on: Android, iPhone

Open up your eyes

Product: Only When Howling | Format: iPad | Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
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There is nothing more boring and pointless in the world than the argument over what is or isn't a game – especially when people try to use it to mark down interesting titles that try to do something new with the medium.

So, let's get this out of the way right here. Only When Howling is not a game. It's an interactive art piece which happens to have multiple paths and interpretations depending on how you choose to experience it.

That's not going to be to everyone's tastes, but if you go in with an open mind, you may be surprised about how much you get out of it.

Open hearts, open minds

Each of the three stories in Only When Howling is presented in a similar format – you're shown a small cutscene to explain the scenario, then your character's head opens up and you're invited to dive into their thoughts and feelings.

These are represented in abstract environments which you poke and prod to change in sometimes short and imperceptible ways, with multiple screens to look at before you move on.

Only When Howling Screenshot 1

Your actual goal, for want of a better word, is to find specific objects which unlock a new cutscene, giving you a better insight into the emotions of the character whose story you're experiencing.

This is all done with minimal text and a heavy focus on imagery and metaphor, so it's up to you to draw your own conclusions based on what you've been presented with.

Obscuring the way

It's a design decision that works well here but will probably drive away more than a few people here – Only When Howling doesn't offer any clear-cut answers, and nothing has a particularly satisfying ending.

The art style may also prove to be a turn-off for some. It's a little bit basic and cartoonish and lacks the kind of polish that similar projects often focus on to set themselves apart.

But, again, it works in the context. The art style lets Only When Howling experiment with its own presentation, leading to wildly different environments to explore for each character.

Only When Howling Screenshot 2

You get a sense of each person's life and feelings through how their thoughts are represented and the different ways you can interact with them, and it's another layer of imagery to consider when you're thinking about the experience afterwards.

The quiet of night

Overall, Only When Howling is certainly not for everyone. It doesn't hold your hand, it doesn't offer any neat little answers, and it doesn't provide much in the way of interactivity.

But at just half an hour long, it does what it wants to pretty much perfectly – it gets in, gives you complex emotions to deal with, and gets out to leave you to your thoughts.

If you're looking for something short and contemplative, it's definitely worth checking out. And even if you're not used to this kind of experience, you might still find something here that will give you some food for thought.
Only When Howling review - A short, contemplative piece of interactive art
Reviewer photo
Ric Cowley | 11 June 2018
Only When Howling is a beautifully weird art experience that will give you lots to think about in a very short space of time
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