Posted: May 1
The Novelist tells a compelling story about a man torn between priorities. Sadly, the game that carries this story is dull, repetitive, and mechanically simple.
Dan Kaplan is a writer who has taken his family on vacation in the hopes that the experience will allow him to overcome writers block. Oh, and he also needs to save his marriage and connect with his son. Some vacation!
While the game never outright explains what you're playing as, the best label I can slap onto your role is 'Ghost'. Besides traditional first person movement, you can possess lights, make them flicker, and seamlessly move from one light to another via a direct sight-line (similar to the security cameras in Watch_Dogs). The Kaplans will get spooked if they see you, so you have to spend a lot of time hiding in the light fixtures.
This adds some very interesting stealth gameplay... provided you don't wuss out and pick the 'Story Mode', which renders you completely invisible to the Kaplans. It's completely unnecessary, since I never once got spotted during my play-through. The game does try to ramp up the difficulty a little by having some lights turned off in the later game, preventing you from using them and forcing you to actually foot it between certain rooms. It's more of a minor annoyance than a major game changer, however.
The actual meat of the game involves you using your ghostly powers to guide choices made by Dan in regards to both working on his novel and spending time with his family. Each chapter starts with a brief plot point, followed by you exploring the house for clues related to what each family member has on their mind. The clues often take the shape of diaries, notes, drawings, letters...
Would now be a bad time to point out that developer Kent Hudson worked on Bioshock 2?
You also have to collect memories from characters. Doing so requires you to get into their heads, which you do by getting sneaking up and possessing them. Once inside, you explore... the exact same house, except now you don't have to worry about getting spotted while looking for yet more clues (now in the form of the actual characters, frozen in time).
Once you acquire all the clues and memories related to a character, you'll find out what they want, and can then complete the chapter by finding a specified object and whispering a suggestion into Dans ear while he sleeps. If you're a real keener (and managed to avoid spooking them), you can find out what one or both of the other characters want, which will give you the option of reaching a compromise. This allows you to satisfy two characters, while only leaving one disappointed.
The entire process starts to become routine by the third act. You evade detection, collect clues, search for memories, and then make a choice. Repeat for each of the nine chapters. You can always rely on clues being concentrated in the same few rooms, often on the same desks and tables, so you never have to look too hard. By the seventh act I was just looking forward to the game ending. Not a good sign.
Wait a second...
Entire game takes place within a single house.
Majority of gameplay is reading diaries and letters.
Former Bioshock 2 developer.
This is Gone Home, but with actual gameplay! I guess hat's enough for a 5 out of 10.