Eurogamer: The Whispered World Review

By John Walker on April 27th, 2010 at 11:35 am.

Aw.

I’ve been looking forward to The Whispered World since PC Gamer’s Graham Smith returned from Cologne last year to tell me how lovely it looked. A point and click adventure into which a huge amount of love was being poured. It’s been out in Germany for a long while, but has now been released in English. My review of the game is now up on Eurogamer, and it begins like this:

“There’s a sensation familiar to anyone who knows adventure gaming well. It’s that moment when you’ve cracked a puzzle, and the game opens up. Suddenly there are two or three new locations to explore, new objects to find, and new puzzles to solve. Those mysterious inventory items make more sense in this new context, and previous unsolved puzzles receive that vital clue. They’re fantastic moments, stepping out of dark rooms into bright light. It’s probably the very hardest thing to get right in an adventure game. The Whispered World demonstrates one of the more frustrating ways to get it wrong.”

Below is the launch trailer, plus some other thoughts that – for reasons explained – couldn’t go into the review.

Before I waffle on a bit more about it below, here’s the launch trailer. It illustrates an awful lot of what I raise as issues in the review:

Sometimes the thing you need to discuss the most when explaining why a game doesn’t work is the ending. And of course you can’t. You have to wait a good deal of months, splatter everything in spoiler alerts, and then still receive a barrage of complaints from those who were cursed by witches to be utterly unable to recognise such warnings. So the thing I couldn’t talk about in the review, and perhaps the most sad failing of a game that comes so close to being good, was the moment that captures all that’s wrong with it. So while I’m going to give nothing of the plot’s content away, I’m going to do it here, and you can consider this a spoiler warning.

Beyond the horrendously irritating voice, and the extremely poorly thought-through puzzles (context: other voices are fine, and some puzzles are decent), comes a violation of the player’s illusion of choice. There’s a point early in the game where it’s suggested to you that you can be honest about something important, but it’s a fake. You’re forced into lying. Here it’s done really well, and lying is by far the more interesting path for the game to take. To this I take no exception. But at the end there’s a veil-parting twist. And in that revelation you’re given a huge choice, and what is an extremely moving choice. What makes the complete game so very interesting is the certainty of failure, the overwhelming knowledge of doom spelled out from the beginning. And this choice, in light of this, is so deeply significant.

Groan with him.

But it’s no choice at all. It’s another fake, and a ruinous one. All the emotional depth on offer is robbed from you as a player. It’s such a tragic moment, but for absolutely the wrong reason. You’re given, essentially, two doors to choose from. That’s how stark the suggestion of choice is. But one of them cannot be walked through. And for that I wanted to throw the game into space, then destroy it with a giant space laser.

Thank you – I needed to get that off my chest. The full review is far more balanced. The game is truly lovely in so many ways, the art and the writing both fantastic. A game about sadness is a fascinating thing that the world was woefully needing. This one comes close to getting it right. But not quite close enough. Which is perhaps the saddest thing of all.

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63 Comments »

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  1. Rich says:

    I can imagine the moment.

    The emotion builds.
    You make your choice.
    You inch towards the door, still with the slightest feelings of doubt about the decision you’ve made…

    …only to find the bloody door has been painted on.

    Silly developer.

  2. Robert says:

    Ooh the Irony. This post saddens me, a lot. For a game about despair, and hope, it is awfully appropriate.

    I do wonder if Mr Walker should have lied, the way Sadwick did. Giving it a 10. I desperately want to love this game, as much as the The Whispered World wants to live.

  3. fizz144 says:

    Wheres the map????????? (Gave up) Please help cant find guide. At least give me a cryptic

  4. Clovis says:

    I thought this or maybe this was the saddest thing.

  5. Blackberries says:

    No. No! I wanted so badly for this game to be great. Trad point-click adventure? Lovely fantasy world? Beautifully drawn? Story about sadness? Oh how much I wanted it to be good..

    Maybe I’ll get it anyway. But that may just disappoint me more.

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    Lars Westergren says:

    It’s a bit sad, I have so little time these days and such a huge pile of games I haven’t even had time to start playing (half the stuff from the xmas sale on Steam, Mass Effect 2) that I’m actually really relieved when a game I’ve looked forward to get less than stellar reviews.

    I am still tempted to get it though, just to reward a game studio for doing something original (in design if not in gameplay), in a day when 8 of the 10 best sellers on Steam are shooty bs.

    From watching the trailer, the in-game animation looks fantastic, the cut-scenes have beautiful scenery but the animation look like typical bland outsourced Don Bluth/Disney clone (the stuff JohnK rants against in some of his blog posts.) And you were right about the voice acting. Man, that was annoying. Any chance of a Witcher style patch which restores original language and adds subtitles?

    • qrter says:

      This is something that amazes me when people say how lovely the game looks – the backgrounds certainly look lovely, but the design of the characters themselves look awfully bland (the ’80s morning kids show animation kind).

    • Thants says:

      Based on that trailer the animation in game looks really bad. It’s got an annoying, jerky, too few frames kind of look.

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    Lambchops says:

    The fact that the ending is likely to make me angry in combination with the bad voice acting is enough to put me off this one. In fact the voice acting is enough (see also Vampyre Story). Shame, as it looks really pretty and exactly the kind of thing I would want to like.

  8. Shameless says:

    Why would I buy this instead of Master of Magic?

    In seriousness, I like the way the art looks…like those old Don Bluth cartoons. Too bad the game sucks, eh?

  9. RogB says:

    some gorgeous background art there, and the trailer voicer wasnt -too- horrible. cheap, yeah.. but I could tolerate it.
    very pretty though.

    did anyone else lol at the ‘vader’ NOOOOOOOOooooooo ? it even had the same metallic voice effect!

  10. Pod says:

    >The full review is far more balanced.

    Why? Can you only reveal your TRUE FEELINGS in familiar, RPS territory? You should RAGE over at Eurogamer if that’s wht you think about a game, John.

    RAGE

    • John Walker says:

      You’ve somewhat misunderstood. This was my ranting about a specific failing of the game that couldn’t be included in the main review, as it would be inappropriate to discuss the ending. Thus the full review is balanced, as it also discusses what’s good about the game.

  11. Wulf says:

    I can’t agree with that review, sadly, as it seems needlessly harsh compared to past adventure games (or even some quite recent ones).

    I thought the voice-acting was great, especially Sadwick, and I loved that they pretty much had a voice-sample for everything, even every combination of items. It got a good couple of chuckles out of me, too. One of the things I love doing is comparing things with the compass, because Sadwick keeps pumping bizarre things out of his copious imagination about the North. The North being a magical land where anything can happen, and it’s currently the place where he isn’t.

    I admit, I’m only half-way through and I haven’t completed it yet, but from what I have played… well, I haven’t seen a puzzle that’s too crappy yet, nothing worse than Strong Bad’s game, anyway, or any of the adventure games I used to play. If you want ludicrous puzzles then try the first Discworld game, because that had some of the most bizarre and generally inexplicable puzzles I’d ever come across. And it’s nothing compared to some of the puzzles in The Longest Journey, like the one where you have to combine a bunch of items to grab a key from a subway track. Considering that both Discworld and The Longest Journey were critically acclaimed, I couldn’t see anything there to nitpick, since the game was more kind than either, whilst still being challenging.

    As far as the voices go, I thought they were at least as competent as anything I’ve ever heard in any Telltale game. I’m not going to say that this is LucasArts quality voice acting, it’s not, far from it, but it’s better than a lot of adventure games in recent memory. Each character is individual and carried off well, provided with vocal eccentricities that remind me of those old, 80’s cartoons I loved back then. This means that the voice-acting comes across as a little theatrical at times, but I honestly don’t believe that’s a bad thing, not in the least.

    The animated scenes are so well done they have to be seen to be believed, the overall art of the game is delightful, the painted backdrops are lovely, and I just can’t fault it. Not only that but it introduced a new fun mechanic into the adventure gaming genre with the inclusion of Spot.

    Spot reminds me of A Boy and his Blob, because he’s a giant caterpillar that can take a number of different forms, and these forms come in handy at different points. It’s also fun interacting with spot, too, since that can lead to some particularly funny moments. And it’s through Spot you first see how much Sadwick is capable of caring, despite being depressed at what he perceives to be a particularly dull world. That’s what it’s about, truth be told, waking the wonder. The only valid comparison I can think of are Final Fantasy leads, who start off dour and introspective, and then begin to bloom over time as they show themselves to people. But Sadwick has more character than any of them, even in his introspective stage.

    Also, I felt that picking on the movement system was unfair and unnecessary, because really it was a matter of presentation. The thing is, you could say the same about The Longest Journey. That opens up a number of areas which you need to pick away at before another block are opened up, and the only difference is in how it’s shown to the player. The Whispered World goes for an overworld map sort-of-thing due to accessibility, I think it wants to be inviting to casual players. Another thing that tells me that is how you can find hints by talking to people, and if you hold space it shows you every interactive spot in the environment, which is helpful to short sighted people like me.

    I haven’t had as much trouble as John did figuring out what I had to do next, either, since that’s pretty much a staple of adventure games. I had to do it in Moment of Silence, I had to do it in Broken Sword, I had to do it with The Longest Journey, and yes, I had to do it with The Whispered World. One wonders if this means that if The Longest Journey were reviewed today, whether it would end up marked at about 5/10, in which case I could completely understand that.

    But really, this is an adventure game, it’s as simple as. You either like them or you don’t. I mean, there are minigame-like puzzles, tough puzzles, logic puzzles, and things that will set your brain on fire, but if you play a lot of adventure games then this is honestly nothing you haven’t seen before.

    My advice is to try the demo, and if–like me–you think the acting is really quite good, and you find yourself enjoying the storyline, the beautiful aesthetics, and everything else that the game has to offer, then I’d chance that you may just like the full game. I would urge you to try the demo though before you buy, to make a decision either way.

    • John Walker says:

      I don’t mention the “movement system” at all. Which makes your comments somewhat confusing.

      I can only think you’re confusing my complaints that during those moments when more areas open up (something I celebrate), the game then offers you very little to do when you get to them. Again, nothing to do with movement, nor the map, nor the way the game is laid out. (Although I could have commented on how tiresome it is having to trudge across certain areas numerous times where you can’t reach the exit to double-click on it – the second chapter on the island is especially frustrating for this).

      Also, I have always criticised The Longest Journey for its terrible puzzles. Your example of Strong Bad is a poor one, since those games cleverly prompted you for almost all the puzzles, and when it didn’t you could turn the clue volumes up until more direct suggestions of what to do were offered. Something that this game desperately needs.

      Your liking Sadwick’s voice, however, is something I cannot comprehend. It’s like a nail being scraped down glass.

      I’m interested to know how far in you are, as the mistakes the game makes get progressively worse as it goes on.

    • Wulf says:

      It was this part, from the review: “But so often, oh so very often, this moment of freedom is squished by once again having absolutely no idea what you should be doing next. In the first chapter a great number of areas open up at once, with almost nothing to do in any of them. It’s like picking at a roll of Sellotape, trying to find the end and then gradually picking at it to let it unspool.”
       
      I disagree with that, really, and that’s what I was trying to explain, because I feel like that applies to every adventure game I’ve ever played. Ever. So it’s a basic flaw in the adventure game mechanic, but not necessarily in The Whispered World, this is why I thought it was unfair to level this complaint against The Whispered World, and one of the elements that made the review seem unnecessarily harsh.
       
      Also, I think my comparison to Strong Bad is fair because I saw just as much prompting in The Whispered World. *shrug.*
       
      But that’s just my opinion, no need to fret over it, to each their own.

    • John Walker says:

      I’m not fretting : )

      I think my point is still being missed. Great adventure games open up new areas and are like playgrounds. There’s so much new stuff to do, so many new puzzles to start working on, and you feel refreshed and free, as I describe in the review. Here you find new locations where you can do almost nothing, other than hoover up new inventory items. It’s like walking out into the sunshine only to find that it’s a painting of the sun on a low ceiling. And that’s what this game kept doing to me.

      I’m still interested to know how far into the game you are. Which bit have you reached?

    • Clovis says:

      I think there’s a problem when you have to constantly defend a game by comparing it The Longest Journey. I really enjoyed TLJ, but it’s over 10 years old now. Most other game genres have advanced a bit in the last few years, but AGs haven’t much. There have been improvements in hint systems, and I thought Penumbra had some good ideas.

      Regardless of that, I’ll be watching out for the game. I really like the Don Bluth-eque graphics.

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      Vandelay says:

      @Clovis – I think the reason it is perfectly acceptable for someone to compare a new adventure game to The Longest Journey is because it is still held as one of the best examples the genre has to offer. Certainly outside of Lucasarts’s classic point and click games, TLJ is the game that has received the most praise when it comes to adventure genre.

      As for progressing the genre, many people have tried to take adventure games into a different direction, but they have all failed to make something that is any good or that has caused a revolution. The reason I think nothing has worked is because it is a simple case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The traditional 2D point and click adventure does exactly what it sets out to do and does not need to be reinvented.

      Unlike many other games that rely on creating unique gameplay, this genre needs to create original characters, settings and story to be successful. Even the puzzles are fairly secondary (take a look at TLJ and some of its bizarre solutions.) It really is one of the best genres to tell a story in.

      The only innovation I would be interested in seeing is giving the player a greater sense of presence in the world of the game. Allowing the player to perform multiple solution to puzzles and make different decision which would then branch the story off in different directions would be very interesting to see, as long as it didn’t hamper the story. Even if it was mostly just a facade, the feeling that your actions have real consequences is something the traditional adventure genre really needs to work on.

    • Clovis says:

      @Vandelay: I completely agree with your last paragraph. Have you played any of the Penumbra games? It’s another failed attempt at updating the genre, but I think it really shows how AGs could improve. Adding physics to the mix allows for multiple solutions to many puzzles. Searching a 3d world by opening/closing drawers and knocking stuff about is a lot better than pixel hunts. I don’t see how 2D has any advantages in story-telling. I’d say that Half-Life 2 was a better story than most AGs, especially the way the story was told.

      I really don’t think this is a matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think the games are just in a rut that they can’t get out of because there’s not a big enough audience. A lot of the audience that is there do not even like first person.

      I’d love it if some company could make an adventure game that looks like Half-Life 2 or Crysis, but throws out all the shooty bits. I don’t see that happening. Oh, well, there’s Hard Rain, but I think that game just made things worse, but I haven’t played it yet.

    • Wulf says:

      One discrepancy occurs to me that I really ought to air regarding Strongbad, since John and I seem to be at odds about this. There’s talk of it having more prompts than The Whispered World. I can’t help but wonder if John played with the hints on in Strongbad.

      In all Telltale games I find the hints far, far too obvious for my tastes, so I always turn them off completely in order to enjoy the game by solving things according to my own wits, but if John was playing with the spoken hints on then… yes, Strongbad had prompting.

    • John Walker says:

      Wulf – you appear to be saying: “if you turn the prompts off in Strong Bad then of doesn’t have any prompts.” Well, that’s true I suppose. And I tended to play with them switched off. But could turn them on if I needed to. Which I cannot in Whispered World. So I maintain that Strong Bad has much better prompts. What with having them. Unless you turn them off.

      Is there a reason why you’re not saying how far through the game you are? I’m genuinely interested, as I want to understand your comments in context.

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      phlebas says:

      There are prompts and there are prompts. Active hints towards the solution are one thing, but a well-designed game should nudge you in the right direction more subtly. There should be some motivation for what you’re trying to do, not just guessing what the designer wanted you to. Examining the contents of your inventory or surroundings should yield pertinent information (as well as flavour). If you try the wrong object, you should get some indication of why it’s wrong and that might point you in the right direction without the need to shout “YOU NEED SOMETHING FROM YOUR BEDROOM!” or somesuch.

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      Vandelay says:

      @Clovis –
      I haven’t played Penumbra, just the demo. It is one I keep seeing in special deals and meaning to get it, but been strapped for cash each time. Certainly looks like an interesting way of moving the genre forward and I agree completely that physics based puzzles open up multiple ways for the player to find a way around an obstacle. If they could incorporate this to a story that wraps itself around the different possible actions of the player (even simply through dialogue choices) then they would be onto a winner.

      I don’t think that 2D is necessarily better, but it does seem to have been that way when it comes to adventure games, particularly ones that are rooted in the point and click heritage. Look at the Telltale games, which I’m sure most would say were a valiant attempt, but are not at the same heights as the 90s greats. Telltale have to focus on creating an engine that is accessible to the many and a control scheme/interface that instantly understandable and easy to control. The simplicity of the 2D interface means that this is not an issue; the developers can focus on the art and dialogue of the game, without having to worry about the bumpmapping and pixel shading. I would also say that I could not name a 3D game that looks quite so magical as the screens for this game. Again, I don’t think that necessarily has to be the way, but there are many more concerns when dealing with 3D.

      Not played Heavy Rain either (PC gamer only), but it certainly looks like a novel way of doing things. Farenheit was a really interesting experiment and HR looks like it is refining the style, without the silly nonsense from the final third of the game. HR is actually a good example of what I would like to see the adventure game adopt more. The fact that the story progresses no matter what you do, even when your character dies, is exactly what needs to be done to make the story really feel like it is progressing because of the player’s actions. Even if this is just a facade (I have no idea how significantly the story can diverge in HR,) it would still make the game much more exciting, at least for the first play through.

    • 2late says:

      I also enjoyed the demo and even Sadwick’s voice … sure it might seem a little forced but somehow it manages to fit the character.

      I’ll be buying this day one no matter what the reviews say.

    • Urthman says:

      I’d love it if some company could make an adventure game that looks like Half-Life 2 or Crysis, but throws out all the shooty bits. I don’t see that happening.

      Have you tried the Research and Development mod for Half-Life 2? It’s got some gravity-gun-based combat (throwing stuff at zombies), but it has no guns, and a lot of it is just physics-based puzzles in the Source engine. It’s short, but very well done – clever, funny, and fun.

      And the later Myst games (Uru, Myst 5) are almost as pretty as HL2, and have some physics-based puzzles (but much more painful since you can’t actually pick things up).

    • bill says:

      I finally got TLJ in a GOG sale a few weeks back, so I’m finally playing it after hearing about it for so long.

      The key in the subway tracks puzzle seemed totally obvious and logical to me, and I mostly hate adventure games because i suck at them. On the other hand the puzzles that have most annoyed me so far are the ones where things don’t get unlocked unless i’ve exhausted a particular dialog tree.

      Either way, I think the problem with reviewing adventure game puzzles is that puzzles that are obvious to one person are insane to another. And visa-versa.

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      phlebas says:

      I enjoyed Penumbra and Research and Development a lot, but wouldn’t want them to represent the future of adventure games – that would seem too much like conceding that there’s no place for games that don’t depend on physical dexterity for a significant proportion of the gameplay. There are plenty of interesting directions that adventure games could go in if they would stop chasing the ‘slightly interactive movie’ paradigm – exploring player agency has a lot more to offer than better graphics or physics puzzles.

  12. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Ugh! This is bad news to me :(
    I wanted to love this game.

    The voice acting is a particularly sensitive issue to me. I’m very easily drawn to, or removed from, games because of that. If you are going to voice your game characters make absolutely sure you get it 100% right. I do not understand, really, why on earth developers who should know better insist in bringing voice acting into a game without properly gauging the actors’ abilities.

    I’m not so much concerned with the game script though. I tend to be a little forgiving of adventure games and their puzzles. But throwing away the whole game out off the window on the final puzzle, seems too much. Nothing I did so far had any impact in the world? Instead I’ve just been solving puzzles in order to get to that last screen where I’m not even given the choice of what to do? C’mon, even SCUMMV gave me better than that!

    At the very least this review will force me to read a LOT more reviews before finally deciding whether I should buy or not this game. It’s a shame. But this is what happens when a great idea is born in the heads of people who can’t make it happen.

    • Wulf says:

      You could try the demo. You’d immediately know, that way. John thinks that Sadwick’s voice-acting is bad, and if you agree then you won’t like the voice-acting in the game, it’s the perfect test and that’s why I recommended it. I won’t take anyone’s opinion from them, but I’m just saying that the fairest way to build an opinion on that topic is to try the demo.

      I personally felt that the voice-acting was very theatrical, like a stage play or an old cartoon (such as Mysterious Cities of Gold), it didn’t make it bad, to my ears, just a different sort of voice-acting to the more serious voice-acting one may be accustomed to, it’s generally more light-hearted and different. You may like it, you may not, try the demo to see!

  13. Lewis says:

    My goodness, John, in my review I wanted nothing more than to just disclose and rant about the ending for a thousand words. I suspect I’d have strayed a mark higher had it not been for that monumentaly ill-judged final five minutes.

    OMG SOME PEOPLE MIGHT CONSIDER THESE SPOILERS RIGHT NOW

    What annoyed me just as much as the ruinous decimation of the illusion of choice was how ill-placed that twist felt as of itself. In better context, it would have been an exceptionally smart twist. But here, it negated much of what came before.

    The game is so exceptional at crafting that glorious fairytale wonder that Studio Ghibli etc go so far with. It’s a game about growing up, and the emotional connection you make with Sadwick and the other characters and the world is so remarkable. The implied backstory about his mother is so beautiful. There’s so much of that richness to the world.

    And then, in a single conversation at the end, it’s all lost. Because everything so far in the game, everything you thought to be true, turns out to be nothing more than… well, nothing more than what it is revealed to be.

    In something like – say – BioShock, that sort of move is a smart one to make. Even if that game sodded it up by making it inconsequential. But imagine if BioShock’s twist had been the very last scene. And imagine if it went a hundred times further in catapulting the Would You Kindly into something that didn’t just negate player choice, but negated the very nature of reality itself. At the very end of a game whose world and story you had become so connected to.

    So yes, you’re right: absolutely tragic, and for absolutely the wrong reasons. In better context, or perhaps earlier in the game, it could have made for one of The Whispered World’s most poignant sequences. At the end, and in that context, it was the final nail in the coffin for a game that had been pushing its luck for several hours already.

    • Lewis says:

      Just to clarify, since I wasn’t too clear about this: the twist is a very smart one, and when that veil is lifted, and that conversation at the start comes back to you, it makes perfect sense. But it’s still a very disappointing one. I wonder if it could be said that this makes the game effective: discovering the twist made me sad, and angry, and I didn’t want to feel that having come so far in Sadwick’s shoes. Perhaps that’s in some way a compliment. I still didn’t like it one bit.

    • John Walker says:

      Absolutely massive spoilers:

      Actually, there’s a moment in the credits that undid some of the damage re the mother for me. There’s a pic of him knelt before her grave, lighting a candle.

    • Lewis says:

      I really must watch credits.

  14. devlocke says:

    I just started playing ‘The Longest Journey’, after picking it from GOG, and honestly, I feel like all of the complaints in the EG review of ‘The Whispered World’ with the (important) exception of the voice acting are things that could be complained about in ‘The Longest Journey’.

    Either you’re not explaining why these problems are somehow worse in ‘The Whispered World’ than they are in other adventure games, or… I dunno, honestly, I was reading the EG review and thinking “But they’re ALL like this…”

    You’re quite familiar with the genre, and you’ve even reviewed some more recent ones, so it’s ludicrous to think that you’re just now removing the rose-tinted glasses and confronting the reality of adventure games, but that was kinda what it felt like. Sort of, “I like all of these games because I played them when I was younger and they were BRILLIANT but this new game has all of the problems they did, and therefore is not, despite being no worse.”

    I’m sure that’s totally wrong, but… well, how was ‘The Whispered World’ any worse than any other adventure game, outside of the voice-acting? It’s worth pointing out that based on the article, I would have guessed the game scored a 7 or 8. So maybe you just weren’t mean enough, in your tone?

    • Risingson says:

      I still don’t understand the hype behind The Longest Journey, not only a very dull adventure game, but one also that is absolutely unbalanced (either too hard puzzles or too easy), and whose conversations is just reiteration after reiteration. Seing how years later The Moment Of Silence achieved such great writing with the same elements, and was discarded in that area for being to “talky” is one thing that I’ve always wondered about.

    • Clovis says:

      Oh ho ho, who’s taking shots at sacred cows now, eh?

      Ha ha, just kidding. This is way too much adventure game coverage.

    • Risingson says:

      The Longest Journey a sacred cow? An unfair overhype, I would say. It amazed me at the time how some people claimed Toonstruck or Discworld 2 for being average adventure games compared to the “adult” approach that The Longest Journey took. Then I said “Nightlong!”. But nothing was replied.

      Adventure games were grown up enough when The Longest Journey came. But this game brought more problems to adventures than anything else: it slowed them down (to a point that only the ssslllooooowwww and pedantic Syberia would reach later), added unnecesary text to explain things five, six, seven times, and mixed up developed characters with cheap soap opera that took itself seriously.

      But, well, after all, it’s a nice game.

    • devlocke says:

      I have to assume that ‘The Longest Journey’ is exceptional solely because of the voice acting. Which is really good. I picked it up on the basis of all the positive shit about it here on RPS, and that’s the only thing that’s stood out.

      I guess good writing is required for good voice acting, by definition, so it’s a combination of the two, but the writing’s not THAT great, it’s just better than your average video-game, with a plot that’s also slightly elevated compared to average video game fare. The characters are likeable, and the world is interesting, but I’ve read better. I’ve played FEWER better, but that’s a pretty low standard. Some of the voice acting is actually hitting TV-movie levels of decency, which is way above and beyond your average video game, so that stands out.

    • Wulf says:

      @devlocke

      I agree. When I was reading the review, almost everything I got from it was someone ranting about why they hated adventure games, but very little about why The Whispered Journey was picked on specifically. This is something I tried to explain–albeit very poorly–in my anti-review. it just seems so unreasonable to point at a point & click adventure and damn it for being what it is. It’s true to every point & click adventure that ever was. And browsing over the Adventure Gamers forum, they seem to agree with me.

      It doesn’t have the best voice-acting or story either, I’d never want to claim it did. But I thought the whole presentation, voice-acting and all, was charming enough, it told a delightful tale that I enjoyed. And the only thing that can be said about The Whispered World, in my opinion, is whether or not one finds the aesthetics and voice-acting appealing, which clearly John didn’t. But as far as the game part of it is concerned… well, it’s an adventure game. We could score just about any other adventure game at 6 for just about the same reason. :/

      *shrugs.*

      @RisingSon

      The Moment of Silence was one of my all time favourites as far as adventure games go, and I loved it dearly. I’ve completed it twice, and I am tempted to install it and play it again, but the disc I have has StarForce on it, and therefore I can’t allow such unholiness to touch my laptop. If GoG.com pick it up, though…

    • bill says:

      Me too. But i’m only on Chapter 3, so i’m not sure I can gauge how good it is. And having heard about it for a decade, I imagine my expectations are way too high.

      So far, i’m not hating it, but i’m not totally absorbed. The story is ok. the voice acting is ok. There have been a few funny jokes. The pace is pretty slow, but that means i can lean back from the PC and relax for 10 minutes while one of the conversations plays out.
      My main surprise so far has been the almost total lack of puzzles. In some ways it reminds me more of Fahrenheit than a few adventure games… i’m just following the story.

      Still, adventure games usually bug the hell out of me, and this one is still OK, so I guess it can’t be bad. Doesn’t have half the atmosphere of Bladerunner though.

    • Helm says:

      Much agreement, The Longest Journey fails both as a well-written piece of interactive fiction and as a point and click adventure game in a plethora of ways yet it has its defenders and that’s fine, tastes and all. But this game isn’t much worse and yet it’s criticized for it because it didn’t come out in 1995? By your standards TLJ is well-written and this game is also. TLJ has atrocious puzzles at places and this game apparently also. By your standards do you rate TLJ at a 6/10 too?

      “When you finally discover the solution to a bad puzzle (perhaps by translating a German walkthrough) you can see how the designers had got there in reverse. Working backward the logic they were seeing becomes apparent. The problem here is a lack of perspective for the player approaching it forward.”

      Reverse logic happens in almost all adventure games and yes it’s bad. You praised the reverse logic in Day of the Tentacle because it excused some lateral thinking by the time travel mechanic but it’s still reverse logic. Some people enjoy trying to think of unorthodox ways to solve puzzles and more power to them but if you don’t, be consistent. If reverse logic is bad here, it’s bad everywhere.

      If you’re going to go back and reevaluate these old adventure games then be brave: most of the puzzles sucked then and they suck now. The pace in most of these games is horrendous, especially when they end the initial linear sequence and ‘open up’ to a gameworld (Guilty/Innocent Until Caught comes to mind) There’s no sense of freedom in most adventure games because the world is static: it’s waiting for you to figure out what the developers were thinking before rewarding you with animation and movement. There’s no freedom in a static world because nothing gives you feedback. Having the same conversations. Walking in the same walkable areas. Looking at everything while it patiently waits. It’s more like limbo than freedom.

      Why isn’t anyone talking about the Quest for Glory games anymore? They were very brave and ameliorated some of the problems with the genre by having variable feedback and combat as conflict resolution, day and night circle made the games feel more alive. There were problems there too but still, much better design concept than any of the “wait at the puzzle forever” adventure games.

  15. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I did try the demo before. I phrased my comment badly. The paragraph about voice acting is meant just as an addon to what John already said about it. In any case, I found the voice acting bad too (and not just sadwick. Others actors are a fail to me too). But couldn’t gauge how much it would irritate me further on into the game. Chances are it will however, because I am indeed sensitive to this issue in games.

    But the real problem to me here is the game script. Knowing about this terrible shortcoming will almost definitely put me off the game. Just because I tend to be forgiving of adventure game scripts (because rarely someone goes out to actually produce a good one), it doesn’t mean I will gladly accept the whole game to be nothing more than a screen by screen puzzle solver to a last screen twist of no consequence other than gamer frustration.

    (Oh, and BTW, as a total aside, Skidrow has cracked the game and distributed it already. Good on skidrow, right? They are not pirates after all. They are just friendly crackers who don’t want to do anything else other than remove DRMs from games. /rant)

    EDIT: This was in reply to WUlf’s reply to my comment above. Frankly, the reply system in this blog is starting to become annoying. When it refuses to log me in to the blog, replying on the forum never places the post in the right comment thread. And double line paragraphs done in the forum are never respected in the blog. I’m forced to use the ‘br’ tag when replying from the forum. /rant, the second

  16. Bioptic says:

    Poor puzzles I’ll just cheat my way through.

    But surely poor voice acting can be turned off? I don’t recall enjoying Monkey Island 2 the less for it not having any voice acting. Indeed, if the script is as emotive as suggested I’d have thought it superior to any voice acting at all.

    Or could you pull a Witcher and import the German voice files into the English release?

    • Risingson says:

      No one’s looking now? Ok, I confess: I usually turn out voice acting in adventure games. It’s not acting, but someone reading slowly, and I feel really retard when I listen to it. And detracts from the suspension of reality.

    • Risingson says:

      Turn off. OFF.

      Risingson, hating himself more each day for his (lack of) grammar

    • Risingson says:

      Except Telltale games, that is.

  17. Schmung says:

    The brief clip of the voice in that railer made him sound a bit like Steve from American Dad

  18. Lewis says:

    As an aside, that trailer actually spoils what was for me the most magical moment of the game.

  19. Ozzie says:

    I agree. It annoyed me during the whole second chapter that I knew what would happen at the end of it.

  20. Jimbo says:

    This reminds a bit of Fable (Fable before Fable was Fable). That wasn’t very good either.

    • Wulf says:

      I don’t remember Fable being that bad at all, but it did have a rather inexcusably clumsy interface.

  21. Pantsman says:

    That rather reminds me of

    SPOILER ALERT

    The ending of Mother 3. You have a choice – pull the final needle that seals the monster that will remake the world, or leave it. It gives you the choice in a little dialog box. “Pull the needle? [Yes] [No]” Fortunately for my experience, I picked yes the first time. Then, after finishing the game, out of curiosity I went back and picked “No”. To tell the truth I rather expected this to be in the same vein as such choices usually are in Japanese games. If you pick No, the asker says some variant on “But thou must!” and then you can choose again, and this repeats until you pick Yes. But this didn’t even give you that. If you pick No, the exact same thing happens as if you pick Yes. You pull the needle.

    END SPOILER ALERT

    A dissapointing end to that rarest of beasts, a JRPG that is actually worth playing.

  22. Isaac says:

    I think I remember a similarly frustrating false-choice toward the end of the much-beloved adventure game, The Longest Journey, and I had the same response John Walker did to the end of this game.

    • Wulf says:

      I would’ve brought down the barrier between realities if I could have, but in some narratives the big choices are but an illusion for the sake of a good story.

  23. Igor Hardy says:

    The review definitely confirms my concerns after playing the demo. I still want to play it, but I’m kind of discouraged by the expected puzzle frustrations.

  24. moaa says:

    John, you loved the story (and judging by your comments on closing credits – it touched you). Why don’t you want to let other people buy WW and love its story too? Adventures are not about puzzles, they are about new worlds, characters and stories.
    Machinarium btw consisted of secondary and distasteful (absolutely Myst-style) puzzles on 90%. And it was a good game.

  25. Tom says:

    Regarding language, I’d also have loved to have the option to leave the spoken audio in German and have English subtitles. (In fact, the first thing I did once I had both versions of the demo was to root about in the data files – unfortunately, they seem to be compressed into monolithic chunks, so swapping language files certainly won’t be as easy as just a little copy and paste – some decompression and recompression will be required at the very least.)

    In my experience, the voice acting is a mixed bag – some voices are better in the German version, but some others in English were so good that it’s hard to imagine the German ones being any better, though in those particular cases I didn’t hear the alternatives, which may have limited my judgement.

    I was so impatient to see this very obviously lovingly crafted game that I played the German demo long before the English one came out, despite barely being able to speak German at all and thus only having the vaguest possible notion what was going on, and I thought the German voice acting was pretty damn good, Sadwick included. When I got the English version, Sadwick’s voice initially grated (I think it was the slight lisp that did it), but either the voice itself improved as the game went on or I simply got used to it, and by the end of the game I really didn’t mind at all. Perhaps if I hadn’t played the German version first, I wouldn’t have expected something different and wouldn’t have had a problem with Sadwick’s voice at the start either. The Rock Brothers’ voices were definitely better in German, though. You never meet the villain in the demo, so I only heard his English voice, but the English voice actor for him, on the other hand, seems absolutely perfect. Bobby’s voice is pretty good in either version (for some reason, I rather like the Bobby character and his recurrence in various scenes).

    Regardless of the actual voice quality, however, being something of a purist I always try to get any spoken media in its original language with English subtitles as a general principle (though extremes of quality can force the issue), for a couple of reasons. First (though it’s more important in live-action work than animation), even with the best dubbing actor in the world, the odds are that the more subtle inflections of the original actor will never be perfectly reproduced, although they may be extremely close. In many cases, the different structure of the original and substitute languages will mean that inflections don’t translate perfectly no matter how hard the actors try, and in some cases may not translate at all. German and English, though both European languages with some common ancestry, are still structurally quite different.

    At a deeper level, one’s language tends to influence the way one thinks, and the people who dreamed this game up were German – I rather feel that the best way to really, accurately grasp what they’re trying to say is to hear it in the manner in which it was actually thought and written. Subtitles can give you a lot, but hearing the audio they go with really carries just a bit more over.

    Enough about voices. As for the other major gripe people seem to have, the ending, here goes:

    **SPOILERS BELOW**

    I don’t mind that the ending is somewhat mournful and bittersweet, in fact I’m pleased that it is. Though I frequently insist that computer games can, in the right creative hands, qualify as a legitimate art form and not mere toys with which to pass time, very few succeed at this. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that very few games dare to give anything other than an ending that is almost if not entirely satisfying and “happy,” and one that ties up loose ends and leaves no ambiguity (mere sequel-begging cliffhangers most emphatically don’t count as counterexamples) – even those that take place against a backdrop of despair and collapse generally have the lead character pull through in the end. Those that don’t are rare and, like this one, are are frequently rejected by the majority, who are both used to and, as a result, typically demand an entirely happy ending.

    The ending of this game moved me, a lot. I actually tear up every time I play it, and there are precious few games that make me do that. It has a silver lining, sure, and (as is made pretty clear by the credit artwork) does sort-of qualify as happy, in a sense – and yet so much is lost, so much is sacrificed, that one cannot help but feel a profound sadness, even whilst accepting that this is the way it has to be, and even realising that much of what is lost does sort-of survive, in essence.

    ***MAJOR SPOILER BELOW***

    I did, of course, save the game at the denouement and try to get an alternative ending by making the “wrong” decision. When the game didn’t let me do that, I was miffed for a few seconds but then realised that the developers couldn’t, realistically, have done that – the nature of the choice, and indeed the whole story, is not between two endings, but simply between having an ending and not having one. The alternative “ending” would simply be to keep playing, aimlessly, forever – no cinematic could ever properly convey that. Perhaps it could have been better handled by having but the one door, or simply altering the dialogue a little to better explain why Sadwick will refuse to take the other path, despite it being there, but I really think it does an adequate job as it is.

    I should point out, also, that one of the other greatest adventure games of all time (and TWW definitely ranks pretty high in my estimation), Grim Fandango, also has a moment very much like this (though you can easily miss it), and handles it in the same way – you can take an option to end the game in a way that you really know you shouldn’t, and the hero will simply refuse, making a short but poignant remark – “I could actually do it…” And I didn’t complain about that one either, because I really think that it works, and adds greatly to the experience.

    The early bit where you’re forced to lie is a slightly different matter but, again, it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before in adventure games, sometimes using the exact same mechanism. The thing to remember, in most 3rd person games such as this, and unlike 1st person games such as Myst, is that you’re not playing as yourself, you’re assuming the role of somebody else, and your role is thus constrained by their character – every other action you take in the game is interpreted by Sadwick in some way (he’ll frequently tell you that he won’t try to do something you’ve suggested, for example, when if you yourself were there you’d of course go ahead and try it anyway) – this is the nature of adventure games, one that we all accept, and here it just came a littler nearer the surface than we usually see. I think it works better this way, that you can instruct Sadwick to tell the truth and, though he tries (several times, if you want), he simply can’t do it, than if you’d had no option at all but to lie from the outset.

    • Wulf says:

      Thank you. I wish I could have put that as eloquently as you did.

      I keep going back to parts of The Whispered World, solely because it’s such a clever and moving story. I feel that often The Whispered World is damned for having a soul. I also feel that the same people probably preferred the first ending to Blade Runner over the more seminal Director’s Cut (the real ending, the intended one, not the tacked on one).

      I had to come back and have a look to see whether I was still, Universally, one of the few that understood this game. I’m actually thankful that this isn’t the case. There are some things that it seems only a scarce few are destined to understand, The Whispered World is one of them.

  26. Magical Plug says:

    I think you’ve completely missed the point with The Whispered World. It is a thing of rare beauty in the modern gaming world, and you’ve obviously spent so little time and had such little patience with it whilst playing that you’ve ruined the experience for yourself. It says more about your inability to lose yourself into a world completely than it does the absolute calibre of this game that you’ve rewarded it anything less than 10 out of 10. It really is a brilliant title in every way, in my humble opinion.