Impostor Factory review: a moving story where an imaginary life is as fulfilling as a real life
Any good murder mystery needs a spooky house for a scene. It’s the rules. The one in Impostor Factory is a secluded mansion deep in the woods, a crumbling temple of cleanliness with self-cleaning floors and literal golden toilets in the bathroom. You are the first to arrive, your shoulders heavy with rain. You don’t know much about the hosts other than the fact that they’re old, quirky, and eager to unveil the mysterious machine looming in the main lobby. The other guests are as wealthy and eccentric as the owners of the villa, and you, an ordinary man named Quincy, are starting to feel a bit embarrassed about the whole situation. And yet you stay because you are curious about the machine, the strange sight you had in the bathroom and that other guest you keep bumping into – the lady in the red dress who looks familiar and sad and full. of secrets.
The stage is set. The guests are gathered. The murders begin. And then they happen again, and again, and again. The real mystery is not finding out who committed the murders. The mystery is to understand why they keep happening.
Impostor Factory is the third entry in To The Moon saga, a series from developer Kan Gao about doctors wandering through their patients’ memories to give a better end to their life story. Think of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, although here the technology developed by the fictional company Sigmund Corp. can only be used on the dying. In To The Moon, for example, two scientists explored the memories of an elderly man to – guess what – help him achieve his dream of going to the moon. I still haven’t played the sequel, Finding Paradise, and you don’t need to play the prequels to piece together Impostor Factory’s story, but you might as well. Each game can be completed in one sitting.
Despite being part of the To The Moon universe, the first hour of Impostor Factory reminded me of a previous Gao game: the short, free and utterly incomprehensible horror The Mirror Lied. Similar setting, similar strangeness, similar feeling of impending doom pervading a warm environment. Impostor Factory also wants to make you feel uncomfortable and achieves that without ever resorting to monsters or spooky jumps. There is only you, a vast villa, and a crime which keeps repeating itself like a broken record. It’s an intriguing setup for a mysterious murder, though there’s not much to investigate: the plot unfolds more like an interactive movie than a game, even avoiding the basic puzzles that dot To The Moon to focus entirely on the story. You walk around, talk to people, follow an entirely linear narrative, and that’s it. Call it a walking simulator, if you have to.
But what a captivating film it is! It may be odd to call a 2D pixel art game “cinematic”, and yet there is a certain cinematic flair to the way the script unfolds, confidently mixing humor and horror, delivering beats and twists with a surgical grace. I really hope someone gives Gao a few million bucks and a camera at some point, because it’s clear this developer loves visual storytelling, and that shines through every cutscene – despite the limited tools.
In case you were wondering, yes, Gao’s engine of choice is still an older version of RPG Maker, which means choppy frame rate and small, fixed resolution. The end result definitely looks old-fashioned, although you can feel the care taken with every little animation of the characters standing, kissing, smiling, and crying.
It’s such a shame that the game stops pretending to be a mysterious murder after the first act, only to return to more familiar ground: memory leaps, domestic tragedies, lost loves and sick children. It’s a bloody story that manages to cross the line between sincere and saccharin, and either bore you or make you cry depending on your tolerance for expert heart pulling. I thought I was immune to the thing, and yet I ended up shedding a tear or two towards the end.
If you liked To The Moon, this game is exactly what you would expect from a sequel: a polished follow-up that never strayed too far from its predecessor, delivering a bittersweet and heartwarming story that can be completed in one. afternoon. It will annoy some, make others happy, and others will still want to see Gao do more. And yet, I really can’t say anything bad about this game. Maybe that’s because I really like To The Moon’s group of disaster scientists, and seeing them again is like seeing again. old friends. Perhaps this is because, despite the slightly tired formula, the ideas of Impostor Factory are still fresh.
With a few exceptions (the Black Mirror San Junipero episode comes to mind), stories about make-believe worlds tend to be self-critical about the fantasy they want to evoke. Running away to a fantasy world is a form of escape that must be condemned, even when the challenges of the fantasy world are no easier than reality. The Lost Boys of Peter Pan return home. The children of Narnia return to the closet. The boring hero of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance destroys the game setting to return to the real world. The fantasy can only be tolerated when it dares to admit its complacent nature, as in the genre isekai.
Impostor Factory is another of those rare exceptions: a game that happily postulates that a fake imaginary life can be as rewarding, valuable, and valuable as a real life. And isn’t that what we all play video games for, after all?