Posted: January 19
This is not a game that's easy to review for me as it's easily the most internally polarizing game I've ever played. It's a game that I both love and hate in equal measure, one that makes the most obvious, horrible mistakes, while still managing to dazzle you with its heart.
The game starts off really well with a beautifully rendered slide-show cutscene that looks as if it were painted by hand. It does a perfect job of setting up a mood and introducing our protagonist, and is immediately followed by a very simple and easy tutorial. It's a tutorial that nearly lies to you though, starting you off with a couple of puzzles, only to then bind you to what comes to be something like two hours of primarily dialogue, wandering about and looking at things.
The game is slow. It's insane how slow it is. The story gives you almost no hooks to catch you with other than the hope that you'll enjoy the characters and the -promise- of a mystery enough to continue. The actual puzzles in the first two chapters are all very simple. The game does a good job of telling you what you need to do in order to progress, and as you figure out the methods, it'll hint towards the means. They're (mostly) well designed and a joy to unlock, but they never quite feel like they're the main focus of the game.
The main focus is the story. It's not a bad story either, it's sweet, it's got its mystery and its build up, but the pacing is glacial. Finishing the first two chapters took me about four hours and in that time I learned extremely little. Yes, you do find out tidbits about both Sam (the protagonist) and Dr. Styles (her employer), but none of it is surprising and none of it carries the shock that the writers seemed to intend. The 'accident' is mentioned very quickly in the game and you're told not to ask people about it (and the game doesn't let you, either), but when it's finally revealed what happened -- it's completely predictable and almost disappointing. A cutscene shows Sam responding to it with shock, surprise, grief and empathy, whereas the player's reaction is more likely that of; "That's it? Really? That's the big reveal?"
Yet, like I said, the story isn't bad. It's just not good. The characters are fine, admittedly even if they feel like they're taken out of a teen romance story, with the orphaned sorta-gothic tough girl acting as the lead, who ends up living with a dark, mysterious and secluded, brooding man with a dark secret and-- yeah. You see where that's going. Along the way she gathers around herself a group of social stereotypes, all of which feel entirely two dimensional. Yet, again, they're not bad. They're entirely likeable even.
Then there's the graphics. Another point that really has me struggling to make a decisive judgement on it. It's gorgeous. Mostly. All the environments you go to are beautifully rendered, clearly handmade with so many little touches. I can only think of a couple of locations where I actually wasn't impressed with what I saw. Some of the locations are straight up amazing, even. Check the screenshots and you'll see exactly what I mean. Yet I did say that they're gorgeous, mostly. Mostly. See, all this amazing art is actually given to you at a surprisingly low resolution. Playing at 1920x1080 I was exposed to gorgeous art that had been muddied by being stretched out across the screen. It felt like such a waste. It's only a 5gb game too, it's heart breaking that they didn't just up the size and add higher resolution backgrounds.
This is then combined with another good & bad, the character models. They actually look just fine. The resolution is high enough and the details are good enough. The lighting in the scene illuminates them well and the shadows are actually rather pretty. Yet despite this, the fact that you have a high resolution 3D character in a lower resolution environment causes them to pop out horrendously. Not a single character in the game ever looks like they're a part of the world they live in. You're constantly reminded by how the world is nothing but a 2D plane. To make matters worse is that every once in a while the models are given idle animations that are way, way too exaggerated. One scene has the American sitting on the grass, constantly going between leaning back and sitting forward, with him kicking his leg into the air in between. As the conversation goes, he'll do this constantly.
Another up and down is the voice acting. The voice actors themselves were very likeable. Their voices fit their roles and they did their lines well. The downside is that this game is stuck with the ye olde adventure game type of talking. It's the kind where as they talk, a box of subtitles pop up. Once the character has finished speaking those lines, they stop. The subtitles go away and a new box opens. Then the character continues. Every time this happens there's this weird and awkward pause that completely snaps you out of it, and really shouldn't be happening in a modern game like this. Conversations should be fluid, especially with such a lovely cast; people should actually talk like they're talking to each other. Not like they're by themselves and reading subtitle boxes one at a time.
So what's the verdict? Honestly, despite everything, I want to like this game. I do. Every part of it just shines with heart and effort. You can tell that on every front, the developer put their heart and soul into the game. They worked -hard- on it, and that fact gives it so much charm and likeability. This shows best in the art I believe, but also in the puzzles themselves. They're rather simple, I admit, but they're a joy to solve. They're fun! I wish the game had more of them, a LOT more. It's fantastic to chase after Daedalus clues! It's equally fun to flip through the book of magic tricks to apply them to a situation, then map out the choreography. Simple, yes. Easy, yes. But fun. Charming, clever and full of character.
So I really believe I can suggest this game to people that enjoy adventure games. If you're okay with slow pacing, if you enjoy an easy story and you'd rather have fun puzzles instead of difficult ones, this is a game I can recommend to you. Like I said, this game is a labour of love and I want to see more from the talent behind it. :]