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.
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.