Ghost Of A Tale is a stealthy RPG with bright whiskers

Ghost Of A Tale is out of early access, letting you squeak your way past an army of rats, in a rodent stealth-cum-RPG. Is it the big cheese, or lost in the rat race? And considering these incredibly obvious puns, why on Earth isn’t it called “Ghost Of A Tail”?

I love the premise. You’re a mouse called Tilo, ridiculously cute, who starts off in a rat prison. Slipped a key by a mysterious stranger, you begin your escape from the jail, only to emerge into a daylight plagued with more rat guards. Your wife is missing, and you’re determined to find her, and doing so is going to involve helping out a lot of other creatures. Tilo, a minstrel, can (in theory) gather multiple outfits of other classes, and thus adopt their abilities, sneak into new areas, and delve deeper into an RPG of fetch quests and combat-free stealth.

The first thing to say is, this isn’t quite ready to be out of early access. It crashes to desktop too often, and feels glitchy in the wrong moments. Once a rat has spotted you, since you’re a weeny mouse who can’t fight back, your only recourse is to run and hide. So the fact that half the time you’ll get caught on the scenery mid-chase really doesn’t endear. There are other annoying glitches too, like the way the camera sometimes madly spins to face the wrong direction when you hide, or come out of hiding, crucially messing up your sneakiest sneaks. All that said, I’m enjoying a lot about Ghost Of A Tale! That it rises above its frustrations says a lot about how lovely and engaging the whole premise is. And yet, despite having a nice time with it all, I still come to you clutching so many more complaints in my arms. It’s one of those sorts of reviews.

So I love the stealth, and that’s pretty crucial. You sneak with the right mouse button, with sound and vision indicators floating above the location of known guards in an intuitive way, with a click of both left and right buttons having you leap into designated hiding spots (cupboards, barrels, under tables). If you’re spotted, you have to peg it and find somewhere to hide, with hiding spots not usable if guards have line of sight. It means you need to budget your very limited sprint to try to dart off down corridors, leap over walls, and frantically scramble, without accidentally stumbling into the path of other rats. The result is a really superb panic, my heart even racing at times as I try to make good my escape. That’s when a glitchy clip doesn’t spoil it of course. Which it too often does.

You can then use guard reactions to your advantage, making noises to distract them, or lure them, then hiding until they’re past, nipping out and racing around a corner to lose them. Or throw a bottle at their heads to temporarily knock them out, rob them, and grab everything not nailed down in a room. It’s wholly lifted from your Thiefs and the like, and good for it. In fact, it’s bordering on a war crime that at no point does any of the rats mutter, on your disappearing, “Huh, must have been humans.” A big, bold third-person stealth-me-do is far too rare of a thing, and while this is aiming for far smaller ambitions than, say, a Dishonored, the mechanism is still very pleasing.

Despite the glitches, the biggest problem I’d say Tale has, is that it fails to establish its premises in a tangible way in the opening hours. It’s one of those games that shows you a skill tree in the menus, and then for an enormous stretch of time doesn’t even hint at how it will be used. It tells you to collect all these outfits, but forgets to have the first be easily gathered to explain the concept. It tells you to go off and find Object X, which in turn requires you to find Object Y, which naturally needs you to acquire Object Z, but Z is in a locked box and you’re only told to “get the key”. In a vast fortress of multiple zones, twisting tunnels, enormously intricate networks of rooms and corridors, and all of them guarded by legions of deadly rats. “Find the key” is about as meaningless an instruction as you could be given.

So you meander a lot more than you purposefully explore. And everything inside, and everything at night time, is all so ridiculously dark, that you meander blindly. You can hold a lantern or candle, but both are set far too dimly, and burn through too quickly, slow you down, and make you too easily spotted. Where Thief always very masterfully pretended it was showing darkness, but actually let you see just fine, Tale is just actually dark. And that’s definitely less fun.

But then it’ll charm your pants and underwear clean off with its lovely writing right when you were feeling too cross with it. Other characters are properly funny, have good gags to drop on you, and the way you react to their banter feels like it makes a difference. Heck, the clothes you’re wearing makes a difference. And this is all given a decent pathos through Tilo’s genuine sense of fear, perhaps even grief, for his missing family. It’s full of chuckles, extraordinarily sweet, and hides the fact that it is just a bunch of fetch quests extremely effectively.

I rather love it. I love that the day/night cycles really change the behaviour of everyone in this little world (and you can sleep to whichever time of day you need it to be), even though it’s ridiculously dark at night. I love the way Tilo scampers on all fours when he runs, even though the sprint stamina is far too brief and takes far too long to refill. I love finding a secret tunnel through gained skills, even though the maps are abysmal and unlabeled. Gosh, it could be a lot better, but I really enjoy playing what it is.

Ghost Of A Tale is out now on Windows for £20/$25/€23, via Steam, GOG and Humble

22 Comments

  1. KwisatzHaderach says:

    Thanks a lot for the review, I wasn’t expecting one so soon after release! I must say I love this game, been following it closely since its funding campaign and it is probably fair to say that my fanboism clouds my judgment. So I’m not saying John’s criticism isn’t justified, just that I feel it feels very lopsided to me. That’s mainly because one of his major gripes with the game, the glitches and wonky camera have been a very rare occurrence for me, and I have played this game for 16 h (most of it beta testing, but still). The fetching and backtracking all are issues, but why no mention of the maps you can find or buy, that help out a lot, or the many shortcuts the game provides when you progress? Why no mention of the wonderful score? And since when is it a bad thing to actually have to search for loot instead of having a bunch of exclamation marks and 3d trails leading you to them? The game is a bit old school when it comes to searching for things. I only had a problem twice with progression and usually the steam forums had some pointers to alleviate the problem.

    Overall, I feel like this review is unfinished, just like some parts of the game are (like some important sound effects are still missing or some of the level geometry isn’t properly aligned). This game needs more polish, no doubt and the asking price is quite steep, but it has so much heart to offer, it would be a pity if it didn’t find its audience.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      It’s not a review.

      • Yukiomo says:

        It has both the “review” and “wot i think” tags. But it doesn’t read like a full review. It reads like a “review in progress” piece. Kind of odd.

      • KwisatzHaderach says:

        Mhhh… I wasn’t sure either but at the top it says home > review > Ghost of a tale

        • FredSaberhagen says:

          It’s a tide ad.

        • FurryLippedSquid says:

          Then it’s mislabeled and not very good.

          • ColonelFlanders says:

            So the “review” and “wot I think” tags, the explanation of the game itself, followed by the writer’s opinion of the quality of said game weren’t a dead fucking giveaway? I know John has a bit of a negative following (I myself will freely admit to disagreeing with a lot of what he says), but let’s try and criticise people for the things they did wrong, rather than just picking holes in things, because that just makes you look like an edgelord.

          • Masked Dave says:

            And lets not ignore that he calls it a review in the third paragraph of the article.

            It’s one of those sorts of reviews.

  2. digital_sneeze says:

    The first thing to say is, this isn’t quite ready to be out of early access

    Yeah, that’s the takeaway issue for me with this. I’m not usually someone that’s overly bothered by occasional bugs but it’s absolutely riddled with them. After about 2 / 3 hours I’ve experienced crashes, magically unequipping armour after reloading, damage-dealing foliage popping in only after it’s damaged me, menu idiosyncrasies, guards that get stuck on the spot in a particular phase and some weird frame drops in areas that should be using few resources (otherwise runs fine on a 2500 / 970) and probably a few other things here and there. It’s a shame because the game is clearly really good, both visually, design wise and in its gameplay. Just really needed more time to iron out the wrinkles.

    Also, my Footlocker Key isn’t working on footlockers. I’m hoping it’s because they’re the wrong footlockers. Otherwise it’s another one for bug list.

    • Creeping Death says:

      My footlocker key worked on one specific foot locker and then was used up. I don’t know yet if there are multiple footlocker keys but one would assume so

      • digital_sneeze says:

        I double checked and it said it was used in the galley, so that would probably explain it. Guess I’ll let that one slide then. There seems to be a lot of keys in this game.

  3. Premium User Badge

    meerdog says:

    Great overview, but this game surely warrants at least a mini review by Lucy?!?

  4. Seith says:

    Sorry to hear you had such a hard time with the game, John. Just know that I’m working very hard to fix the bugs you mentioned. I’m glad you liked the heart of it at least.

    • FredSaberhagen says:

      Only on RPS do the devs respond in comments! Would love to play this game with my daughter when it’s running better

    • John Walker says:

      You developers always read the worst into things! Please note how many times I said I love it despite the issues! Love!

      • Seith says:

        No worries, I understand. It actually speaks to the quality of the game that you express your love for it despite the issues you encountered. I merely wanted to point out that things will keep getting better as I fix the remaining bugs. :)

    • digital_sneeze says:

      Good luck with the bugs, I think people will be talking about this game (positively) for years to come once a few little things are sorted out; the community love devs that go back and tinker with their creations, especially on top of what’s already a great game.

  5. Chubzdoomer says:

    I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. The game is drop-dead gorgeous, but the gameplay itself is just plain BAD. The stealth is rudimentary at best and the “quests” are an endless supply of vague fetch quests that have you running in circles, avoiding the same guards ad nauseum until you’ve lucked up and found what it is you’re after.

    Not my idea of a fun game at all. As much as it pained me to do so, I uninstalled and applied for a refund. This is already a contender for my single biggest gaming disappointment of 2018.

    • digital_sneeze says:

      I personally really liked the more rudimentary approach to stealth, especially when combined with such stellar level design (very Dark Souls 1). I’m a bit done with information-overload stealth like the recent Deus Ex which just became a chore so the more organic stealth of this was welcome.

    • keysersoze says:

      Maybe an unpopular opinion, but I feel like the only time it’s fair to return a game is when it is broken/unplayable.

      Just seems kind of in poor taste to purchase somebody’s content, consume said content, and then demand a refund because it wasn’t for you. It’s like eating 80% of your steak and then sending it back and asking for a refund because it was too salty. You ate most of it, it wasn’t for you, learn and move on.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        That’s a bit of a shit analogy. It’s more like taking one bit out of your steak and realising they haven’t cooked it how you asked for it, which is completely fair.

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