I like mystery novels. A lot. I read them, and I write them, and my god, I want to find a good mystery game. I have tried. My god. I have tried so hard. I’ve played the Poirot games. I’ve played many of the Sherlock Holmes games. I’ve played the Blackwell series. Any time a good point-and-click comes out, I eventually try it out, hoping against hope that this will be the one. I had really high hopes for Murdered: Soul Suspect, and I played it well past the point where I actually gave a damn about it. It had such a good idea. You’re a cop who used to be with a gang but cleaned yourself up well. Your wife is murdered (I think? I don’t remember. She’s definitely dead), and you become more of a loose cannon after her demise. That leads you to chasing after a killer without backup. The killer kills you (not a spoiler, really, as it happens in the first ten minutes or so), and for the rest of the game, you are a ghost trying to figure out what happened to you. In the meantime, you help other ghosts free themselves from this realm by figuring out how they were killed. I mean. This is right up my alley. Murder! Mayhem! Detecting! Paranormal activity! Helping other beings with their lives! It has ‘me’ written all over it. It should have hit me in all my sweet spots…er….but it didn’t. I can’t tell you why, either, not exactly.
I really enjoyed Kathy Rain, a badass chick who has to explore her past, and this is set in the…I want to say eighties. I put up with the usual point-and-click bullshit (esoteric logic that only makes sense to the developers) and relied on the walkthrough for the puzzles. I put up with backtracking for hours through four or five different rooms so I could pick up one thing from the one room, trek to the fifth room to use the thing, then bring the thing from the fifth room to the second room to do the thing that I knew I was going to have to do when I passed through it, but I couldn’t do at the time because I didn’t have the thing from the fifth room–that I couldn’t pick up when I first saw it. I put up with all that because I loved Kathy Rain–the character, I mean.
So, I liked the game despite the shortcomings of the format. It was the writing that drew me in, and I cared about what happened to Kathy. I wanted to know why her father disappeared when she was a kid and why her mom went crazy (I think. It’s been some time since I played it). So, it was to my dismay when in the third act–
I saw it go down that road, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t be the ultimate answer. I wouldn’t have minded if there were paranormal elements, but to have it be THE answer was so disappointing. All the wind went out of my sails, and I no longer had any interest in the story. And since that was the only thing I cared about in the game, once that was gone, so was any interest I had in the game. I finished it because I knew I was close to the end, but I didn’t even try to figure things out, using the walkthrough at the first sniff of difficulty.
I tried half a dozen other mystery/detective games, and there have only been a few that I thought were great games. One was Firewatch, and again, it was because of the story. I was very into the character and how he ended up doing the job he was doing. The backstory is heartbreaking–his wife becomes severely mentally ill, and he’s taken this job as a way to forget about her–and after I fiddled with the POV files for half an hour so I could play the game without getting ill, I continued.
Side Note: I really wish there was a way to make first-person point of view not nauseating to play for people like me. I understand when an indie company/dev don’t have the resources to deal with it, but it makes me sad that two games I really wanted to play, What Remains of Edith Finch and Return of the Obra Dinn, I can’t. The first made me violently ill during the flying section and the latter gave me growing queasiness because of the graphic style. I know, however, that it’s not at the top of the list of most important things for an indie dev, so the sadness is just mine to bear.
Back to Firewatch. It’s funny because this is another game that was headed down the road of ‘it’s aliens’, and I was pleasantly surprised that it WASN’T aliens. I watched a YouTuber who fell off the game because it wasn’t aliens, and while I understand why he was not happy with it, I was relieved that it was a more mundane explanation for the big mystery. Plus, the environments are lovely, and there’s a melancholy to it that really moved me.
The other one is The Sexy Brutale. I have written much about this game because it’s amazing. It doesn’t go out of its lane, and it uses its one conceit really well. You still have to run around quite a bit, but it’s not as torturous as it is in other point-and-clicks. In fact, I had to look something up in a walkthrough because I was overthinking a puzzle and trying to apply typical point-and-click logic to it. The game is engaging on so many levels, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it. It’s the opposite of the others in that the backstory isn’t that important, and while I thought my character was adorable, I didn’t care much about who he really was. Though I was right about that!
I recently played Unavowed, which I really liked for the first three or so chapters. Then, it fell into the tired tropes of other point-and-clicks, and I was done. I really hate the ‘I can see this thing I know I’m going to need at some point, but I can’t take it now’ bullshit. I’m guessing there’s a coding reason for this, but it’s frustrating as hell as a player.
I recently bought Thimbleweed Park at half price because I had heard rave reviews about it. I went in with low expectations, and I’ve played a few hours. I find the game to be…stridently ok. I really like the graphics and the environments, but the characters and the storytelling leaves me cold. There is a very chummy in-game tone to it all, and the voice acting is variable from solid to cringe-inducing. I’ll give you an example of something that made me frown. The sheriff of the small town, Thimbleweed Park, has an irritating habit of adding ‘a-reno’ to every other word. The coroner, who is the same guy, adds ‘a-hoo’ to every other word. That would be annoying as fuck in and of itself, but there’s the ‘charming’ quirk that everyone in the town says while there’s something similar about the eyes, that’s all there is to it, really. Including the sheriff and coroner themselves.
Side Note: I’m watching a video on what is your ‘sadgame’, meaning a game you play when you’re sad. Binding of Isaac was on the list (which was one of my go-tos, though for me, it was Rebirth), but no FromSoft game was named. Funnily enough, though, the first person in the comments mentioned Dark Souls as his go-to for sadgames. It was really cool to see someone talk about it in a way that felt very familiar to me. I call them my comfort games, but it’s really the same thing. Games I play when I don’t want to think or just want to escape. The second video is about not even feeling able to play video games while depressed. I can relate to that. Unfortunately, he’s talking about CBT, which, I’ve written about in the past, is something I really have an issue with. Not it in and of itself, but that it’s so trendy now. It’s good for certain things, but not for others, and I really dislike the way it’s used as a panacea. I skipped the rest of that video. Now I’m onto the third video on PTSD.
Anyway! Thimbleed Park is way too self-aware. There’s a bit about Delores being shunned by her family because she wants to be, gasp, a video game developer. Her dream job is to work with MmucusFlem Games, which I assume is a poke at LucasArts, the forefather of the point-and-click adventure. Actually, I know the game itself is an homage to LucasArts, which, I mean, whatever floats your boat. And, they break the fourth wall in order to directly talk to the player. I don’t like any of this, and I find it detracts from the experience.
What about the mystery itself, you ask? Well, that’s where the game is on a more solid, if slightly well-worn, path. The mystery is pretty bog standard, but it’s believable–even if it’s wrapped in the quirky Twin Peaks-like town with all the quirky characters. I’m interested in what happened to the victim and in the mystery wrapped around the great Pillow Factory fire that happened years ago.
One nitpick–there are two characters who are meant to be foreigners (one a European and one Latino, which is more a minority than a foreigner, but I think you know what I mean). They both have embarrassingly-bad accents. Don’t do that. Just don’t. If you can’t actually hire someone with the accent, then just give them American/British accents and be done with it. I mean, hell, the Brits do it all the time with their movies and TV series, so why shouldn’t video games?
Anyway, I’ll probably play a bit more of Thimbleweed Park, but I’m not enthusiastic about it. This leads me to believe that the point-and-click genre is just not for me. I have tried so hard to love it, but I just can’t get over what I see as shortcomings in the genre. The endless backtracking. The limited inventory and when you can pick shit up. The puzzles that are logical to the devs but not to the player. The stilted dialogue. The static nature of the settings and characters. I picked up Celeste in the Steam sale, which I was immediately intrigued by when it came out, but I was hesitant to play because it’s supposed to be a really hard platformer–which I suck at. However, there was a difficult mod added to it, and I’m eager to check it out. It might be just what I need to get over my disappointment at point-and-clicks.