Before we begin, I want to make this very clear: The reason why this review is so harsh has nothing to do with the fact this is an anti-smoking ad. I completely agree that smoking is a dangerous habit and understanding its consequences is a must, but this game is not a good way to do that. Why? It's simply a mess. If the game was any good, I would've been significantly kinder to it, but alas, this game is the textbook example of what happens when you don't focus on gameplay first.
Back in March of 2019, a mysterious horror escape room game popped up on the Microsoft Store at no cost for Xbox players in the US. It was also a rumored 2-3 hour completion. That sounded so cool, until of course, we found out more about the game.
Immediately upon seeing footage, you can tell the developers really had no interest in making the game. And I can't blame them. They probably weren't getting paid much to make the game, and since the game is 100% free, they weren't getting any money from it. I doubt they had much say in what could be put in the game either, in development time or creative freedom. So why bother making it fun if they have literally no incentive? If people don't like the game, the developers have nothing to lose.
The gameplay is rather unremarkable, it's basically just a walking sim. The graphics are just ugly to look at however. It just doesn't look like a game from 2019, or even 2009. I could forgive this if the game was at least pleasant to look at, but of course it's not.
This game is optimized so badly, I'm surprised my Xbox One didn't crash. And in fact, many people have reported this game doesn't work at all. The whole game looks like someone took random strings of code from other games, put them together in an incoherent mess and by absolute miracle got something that sort of works occasionally. The game stutters constantly, there are plenty of glitches (example: I fell through the pipe in the hospital level), and the narrator's lines play over each other, as in he says multiple things at once. I'm surprised there aren't any unobtainable achievements, to be honest.
The horror element of this game doesn't work, either. The game is trying to be as edgy and over-the-top in gore as possible without getting an "M" rating from the ESRB. As such, it looks scary, but the effect wears off once you realize nothing truly horrifying will happen to your character in the game.
If you don't make it out, you are stuck in a smokers' lounge while the narrator explains the horrible diseases you will get, followed by an on-screen message from The Real Cost (more on that later). If you do make it out, the narrator seems apathetic to your victory, instead choosing to lament on your "friends" (he says they're not your friends at the start of the game) being trapped forever, followed by the same on-screen message from The Real Cost. That kind of defeats the point of winning, doesn't it?
If you play multiple times, the layout of the maze changes somewhat, but the changes are trivial and the solutions to the puzzles never changes.
As for the games message? Only about 25% (or 1 in 4, hence the name "One Leaves") of teen smokers manage to successfully quit. While not a bad message at all, it may not be the best message to give to teens as they could think themselves as the exception. Obviously not all teens would think that way, but then again, teens haven't quite mastered critical decision-making. I've heard comments saying "this game made me start smoking". Congratulations game, you created what you sought to end. If people do interpret this the right way and avoid smoking, then that is absolutely a good thing, but I don't think that's very likely to happen. Basically, this game is just one giant ad from The Real Cost in another one of their generic anti-smoking campaigns.
Most of the achievements can be done in two runs of the game, which may take 20-30 minutes. However, because that would be too easy, the developers threw in an achievement for beating the game twenty times. Unsurprisingly, less than 1% of all players have this achievement, and I'd say most of the people that do have it are achievement hunters (myself included). I could only stomach doing it twice in a row, so it took me quite some time before getting the final achievement.
So with that, I give this game only 1/2 of a star. Not for the developers, or even the fact this is yet another anti-smoking ad. Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, but it genuinely seems like no one involved in development cared about the game. It feels like The Real Cost just wanted one of their PSAs in video game form, and literally nothing else mattered to them.