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Wot I Think: Night Of The Rabbit

If You Go Down To The Woods Today

I am a remarkably optimistic man. I've been reviewing adventure games since 1999, starting approximately 17 minutes after the best in the industry stopped releasing their classics. It's fair to say I'm frequently disappointed. But I remain ever optimistic that each time this could be the one. And with Daedalic, I am certain they're going to get there. Will Night Of The Rabbit be the one? Here's wot I think.

Night Of The Rabbit is a huge, gorgeously hand-drawn point-and-click adventure, bursting with passion and spirit. In so many ways it's so very adorable. Oh, and barely makes sense, infuriates with illogical puzzles, and fluffs up its storytelling in the last five minutes.

Daedalic are clearly a very talented bunch. But it's my belief that they're also incapable of editing. Their long, often rambling games contain many, many gems, but a great deal of filler too. And the often very enjoyable Night Of The Rabbit feels more weighed down with this than ever before.

You play a twelve year old boy, Jeremy Hazelnut, which on its own is a pretty novel start. With two days left of his summer holidays, he's on the hunt for adventure in the woods by the house he shares with his mother. And finds it. There are portals, talking frog statues, talking rabbits on their hind legs, a village of mice and hedgehogs, peculiar trees, mail-delivering frogs, and all throughout a sinister undertone that something much more serious is going on.

There's a lot packed in here - too much, as I'll argue - but along with traditional pointing and clicking, as you progress you'll gather a bunch of spells that are used on characters and environments, along with a peculiar version of Happy Families as a card game to play with people, and even a collection of mini-audiobook short stories set in the same universe.

Jeremy is very nicely voiced by 13 year old British voice actor Jed Kelly, which makes for a refreshing alternative from the usual "get a woman to voice the boy" approach of games and cartoons. And it's such a massive pleasure to report that whatever was going wrong with Daedalic's localisation for English recordings is entirely fixed. The whole cast is great, and there is clearly - at last - some voice direction taking place meaning that coherency is maintained. It's such a dramatic improvement from their previous output that it makes me want to pull out my own eyelids that they've made such a terrible hash of editing some of the sound files.

For no forgivable reason, a good few of Jeremy's lines are lazily clipped, with stutters of other words appearing before or after. Descriptions of inventory items are the most frequent source, with pops and blips left all over. It's stuff even I could have cleared up with a copy of Audacity in about half an hour, and there's no excuse for it to be in the game.

The larger issues come in the sprawling nature of the game. It's definitely something to be celebrated that Daedalic's games aren't a linear series of point-n-click puzzles, but rather a broad spread of locations and a bunch of tasks to be solved within them. But the issue is that there's just no sense of flow. The cascade, the sense that figuring out X gives you a path toward figuring out Y, is one of the biggest appeals of the genre. But when puzzles almost inevitably end in a new dead end, it becomes demoralising.

Successfully realising that you need to combine this with that, so you can use it on the other, and thus get the object needed by whoever - that's meant to then open up the next element. But in Night Of The Rabbit you can bet your bum it'll end in someone saying, "I'm still not happy to do that yet."

What happens to the player is a sense of having failed, rather than succeeded. I've completed the puzzle, and my reward should be a sense of progress. But instead I'm told I'm exactly where I was, and now I have to do something else (and possibly something else after that), before things can go anywhere. And this is so very frequent. This constant - and it really is constant - sense of failure pervades the game, and it's such a shame. A successfully solved puzzle should always advance a scene, progress the narrative - not leave you stationary and despondent. (Oh, and don't bother wasting your time collecting the 30-something droplets hidden throughout - astonishingly this also ends in a big fat nothing at all.)

Night Of The Rabbit gets away with so much of this because it exudes charm like a waterfall. Heck, it's a game about hedgehogs and owls living in the wood, threatened by crows and weird snakes in masks, but living rather lovely lives all said. That really does carry it a long way. As does the sense of intrigue as to the undertone of darkness that seems likely to blossom at any moment.

However, having finished the very long adventure, I can warn that expectations shouldn't get too high. The game constantly lays down some new layers of what might be going on, questions the motives of key players, introduces new possibilities of what may be going on, and really what was driving me forward through its often frustrating puzzles (there are far too many moments that could only be solved by clicking everything on everything, or a walkthrough) was having this be unpicked and understood.

It is. But not during the game. Instead, once you've finished the final puzzle, everything's explained to you in a big rush in a cutscene. Not only is it an anticlimactic way to deliver on the promises made earlier in the game, most of those reveals are themselves a big anticlimax. One particular element that plays throughout hints at something very personal to Jeremy, and potentially very moving - but in the end it's just a big nothing, the reveal of what it really was, and the cause of it, and the dull resolution, all crammed into that garbled ending. This is more of a shame, since a very smart sequence preceding it all could have been neatly used to reveal surprises while you were still in control.

It's also worth noting that the quality control slips away in the final act, which also seems to be a repeated theme in the developer's games. A couple of lines of recorded dialogue go missing, one object description is just "{_Text345_}", and spelling mistakes pop up.

There's no doubt that Daedalic are getting closer to the adventure game for which they'll be warmly remembered. And the fixing of the English voice recording is a massive step - it's fantastic here. But damn, they need to edit. They need to start chaining puzzles together - while still maintaining multiple threads at the same time of course - so the player gets to feel a sense of progress. And they need to remember to tell their story through the game itself, not in what might as well have been a few pages of text at the end. Night Of The Rabbit is unquestionably charming, and wow, the art is exceptional. But when my driving factor to stick with it was to learn the rest of its story, it's hard to come away without a sense of disappointment. Closer - they're getting closer.

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