Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is the new game from the new studio from William Pugh, co-developer of The Stanley Parable. It starts British comedian Simon Amstell, and could arguably be said to maybe possibly feature a grappling hook. It’s free, and out now, and here’s whether it’s worth your precious, precious time.
Typical. There’s not a lot I can say, is there? These lads determinedly make games which are so dependent on surprise and delight and most of all discovering them for yourselves that a critic’s only role, at least until everyone else has played the thing, is to wear a foolish grin or a sad frown in order to affect you, The Consumer’s, Purchasing Decision. Only this is free, so all I am is the gatekeeper of twenty minutes of your life.
But one of the key conceits behind Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist – which you may have previously have seen referred to as CrowsCrowsCrows, actually the name of William Pugh’s new studio – is that concept of gatekeeping, this time from the creator’s point of view.
Like sometime co-conspirator Davey Wreden’s The Beginner’s Guide before it, DLTTATTCEAWH is a response to The Stanley Parable, and particularly to the response to The Stanley Parable. This is the much more playful game than Wreden’s experimental, self-analytical offering, though, working hard for comedy above all else – and that’s not the only way in which it comes across as a condensed Stanley sequel.
OK. Got to be very careful. So little I can say. As in Stanley, you’re being directed around an odd maze of rooms full of odder technology, guided by a comic narrator. It involves a heist. There is indeed a tiger. But, unsurprisingly, something very different is going on.
The major superficial difference from Stanley is that the narrator is almost as bewildered as you this time around, and unlike Stanley’s semi-omniscient, sporadically cruel guide, here you get flustered bon homie with occasional bursts of panic.
If you’re only familiar with narrator Simon Amstell from his acidic Never Mind The Buzzcocks appearances, you might be a little surprised by his gentleness and likeability here, more like a manic Eddie Izzard than Popworld’s poisoned-tongued put-down master.
He’s absolutely the star of the show, propelling it along with an anxious energy which endorses the essential idea that there’s far more going on that you can see, but the performance is far more ramshackle than the clipped tones and pristine pith of the Stanley narrator. This is more about tone than outright gags, and the tone is ‘oh god everything’s going wrong aaaargh aaargh’.
That said, there are often moments when the fourth wall threatens to collapse because Amstell sounds too much like he’s giggling either at the script or his own words. I can’t know that’s the case for sure though, because the very nature of this game is to give the fourth wall a sound kicking
It’s charming, even infectious, but again like Stanley before it there’s that lingering sense that the creators are very, very proud of themselves indeed, which is going to rub some people up the wrong way. Bring in knowledge of Amstell’s sometime kick ’em while they’re down persona and maybe, just maybe, there is the faintest suggestion that we’re all saps for even playing this thing.
Then there’s the real nature of the game, which I can’t go into except to say that it would appear to be laughing at internet commentors’ notoriously wrong presumptions of how games are made, and particularly the Not A Game brigade’s response to Stanley and vaguely similar titles. This is what I was referring to when I was talking about the gatekeeping role of the creator early – what, exactly, is it that people think a game-maker is doing? And are they withholding the good stuff?
Again, similar ideas appear in Stanley, but this tries to be an outright farce, more about pratfalls than pointing out hypocrisy. The Wheatley sections of Portal 2 would not be an inaccurate reference in terms of tone – and, crucially, charm.
‘Farce’ really is the key word though – any time I suspected it was about to become acidic, it hammered the silliness button as hard as it could. I know I keep mentioning it in the context of The Stanley Parable, so here’s the summary without it: it’s funny, inventive short game about games and getting flustered.
But, of course, really it’s a heist game with tigers and grappling hooks in it. There are what I think are secrets too, which may or may not be a reason to return one more times.
Twenty minutes. No cost. You’ll laugh. Bargain.