Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.
In an essay on the surrealist film director David Lynch, David Foster Wallace argued that Lynch’s often-nightmarish aesthetic unsettles the audience because it is rooted in the personal normalities of everyday life. The truly terrifying pieces of Blue Velvet don’t belong to its psychopathic villain Frank Booth, Wallace wrote, but to the moments where its unassuming hero discovers more and more of Booth residing in himself. Essentially, a Lynchian struggle takes place when the normal beats back the grotesque that is always hiding behind the plain—and in that light, Press [X] To Give Up is a rare and fantastic Lynchian game.
Press [X] twists a traditional bullfight into a personal and unsettling struggle against reality. You play as the game’s Beaumont figure—a matador—facing off against a Booth-like raging black bull. In lancing the bull, you don’t simply kill it in increments but trigger bulbous transformations of Akira-esque proportions with each successful hit. And likewise, the bull doesn’t harm you directly, but each gore tears apart a piece of your screen’s reality with visual glitches and computerized shrieks.
The match doesn’t take long to complete, win or lose, and it’s compellingly paced. Near the end I found myself not on the edge of my seat, but mentally receded from the task at hand. I wanted to pull away from the grotesque battle, unhappy with the course of my actions. And yet there was a primal urge to exterminate the monster in front of me, one that I had created. Players are challenged to reject the bullfighting narrative with the game’s titular “give up” button. And yet, knowing this, I gave into my inner Booth and finished the bull.