Zof is a first-person puzzle adventure game in the vein of Myst series. However, unlike in Myst games where puzzles spun across huge worlds (or sometimes even across multiple worlds that are interconnected), Zof uses a level-based approach: each puzzle is concentrated into a mini-world consisting only of a couple of scenes, thus making them more fragmented and more easily approachable.
At the center of Zof there is one main area consisting of 5 separate locations, each containing a portal gate that you can use to travel to two different puzzle levels. Moving between these locations or through the portals is also designed as a puzzle in itself: you’ll need to investigate your surroundings for the correct combination that unlocks the door to the next location or you will need to configure the teleporters in a certain way in order to reach the gate that accesses the level itself. Not only visuals are needed in order to find the solution for these puzzles, but you’ll also need to be able to identify one of several possible sounds that the teleporters emit. However, once you’re inside a level you can go back to the main area any time through the menu.
Pretty much like in Myst, the real challenge is to figure out what a puzzle wants from you. Once you know how it works and understand the logic behind it, solving the level becomes more or less trivial. Even with that in mind, it’s important to mention that Zof is not for faint-hearted puzzle lovers. It’s difficult yet endlessly stimulating, it might make you tear your hair out but when you do understand the simplicity behind each of the puzzles, you’ll be positively surprised how straightforward solving the level can be. Zof isn’t a game that holds your hand: there are no in-game hints and apart from essential clues in the surroundings there’s nothing that helps you figure out a puzzle apart from your own mind and trying different approaches (ok, I lied, there’s an extremely well-made Steam guide by the developer which contains progressive hints on how to solve the levels, but what’s the fun in not-figuring-out-everything-by-yourself?). You won’t ever need to bruteforce a solution but you will sometimes need a pen and paper to write the current combination or to calculate what buttons to press in order to “make it work”.
The levels have a pretty wide range of difficulty – some of them are quite intuitive, others are extremely difficult. Since you can reach any level from the main area at all times (as long as you have unlocked all locations from this area), we can’t really speak of a progressive difficulty: the order in which the levels are unlocked isn’t even their order of complexity; it’s a fun mix of easy and hard and you’ll never know what you get next until you try it.
The second part of the game (after you have solved the 10 individual levels) is substantially more difficult than the rest. You’ll need to dig really deep for clues on how to solve a puzzle and often they can be found in places you least expect. Without obvious hints, your task of finding the solution becomes much more complex because there can be multiple interpretations of what a set of buttons does (“is the order based on the height of the platforms?”, “is it ordered clockwise or counter-clockwise?”, “is the numbering from top to bottom or bottom to top?” etc), basically: “it could be anything”. Hardcore puzzle fans, forged in the fires of Myst and Riven’s riddles will rejoice to have finally found a worthy opponent in Zof.
It is worth noting that there is no storytelling in Zof, there is no lore, no books / documents to read, no scattered paper sheets with hand-drawn sketches for the various machines. It is a pure puzzle game that uses the universal language of audio and optical cues. The visuals are always very beautiful, regardless of the level you play and throughout the game you will be traversing a wide range of environments: ancient, medieval or gothic-themed, fantasy or toy town, sci-fi or abstract.
Zof is an excellent first-person puzzle game with a fantastic game design and ingenious ideas, totally worth playing for hardcore fans of the genre due to the increased challenge that it provides. So grab your pen and paper, and start writing down the clues!