Can you achieve your dreams without pushing away the people you love? The Novelist found me questioning what was the right answer when presented with three differing solutions. While not being too long, about six hours, it delivers in story. Every decision matters and you see how your choices affect a family for good or ill. This game hit me right in the feels and left me with thoughts of the balance in my own life.
Should you buy it?
Yes. It’s a narrative game with a bit of stealth, but if you’re not a fan of stealth mechanics there is a pure story mode where you don’t need to hide. This game explores the struggles we all go through to try and live our dreams while trying to stay firmly planted in the present reality.
$15 is a fair price. However, for six hours of game and light replay-ability you should get it on sale if you can. You’ll receive a smooth experience, lovely piano music, excellent voice acting and a moving story. It’s not difficult to learn the stealth mode and it does add a small challenge to the game.
The cell shading graphics suit the game’s simplistic feel and era. While you never find out the year, you know it’s at least set in a time with vinyl and no internet. (Gasp!)
It’s a game about choice and you can’t reload if you don’t like your decision. The game enforces reality and you must live with your choices or start over. You can’t please everyone is a strong theme throughout the game. There is some mild randomization of the chapters and where clues are, but only the outcome of the chapter really changes. Overall, the replay-ability is overstated.
Enter the Kaplans. A family of three, each with their own desires, needs, and expectations. Dan is a struggling author with at least one published work. He is writing his newest novel and it’s not going well. His wife, Linda, is a painter who wants to start painting again now that their son, Tommy, is in school. Their marriage has grown stale and from the beginning, you’re aware that divorce may be an option. Tommy is five, struggling in school, and spends a lot of the game seeking Dan’s attention. But there is one more person(?) living in the home. You. And you’re a ghost.
Now, this isn’t a horror game, though you can scare the family if you don’t hide (unless you’re playing story mode). As the ghost, you possess the lights throughout the home, remaining hidden. While inside a light, you can cause it to flicker making anyone within sight inspect the light. They will stand there a moment, giving you a chance to sneak out behind them unseen or peruse their memories. You can’t interact with anything other than the light, however. So to inspect clues and interact with the family, you must leave the lights and be visible.
The tutorial was great at leading me through the controls and how your character interacts with the world. It’s also seamlessly skip-able. The game plays strictly in first person with movement in WSAD. There is no jumping, just pressing spacebar to enter a light and ‘E’ to interact or cause a light to flicker. Character movement is smooth with no head bobbing, giving a floating sensation. And as you move from light to light, there is a touch of motion blur. In the beginning, there is only one family member home. After I learned the basics, the other two join soon after.
The game takes place over three months with you making a choice three weeks a month followed by a recap. In order to make a decision (or compromise) you need to find clues pertaining to each person. You’ll notice subtle changes mirroring your choices. Some item’s you’ve selected moved to another room for example. Failing in stealth mode and scaring someone means you won’t be able to select their choice or compromise until the next chapter.
I got through the first day, found all my clues. I select the item to make my choice and the game reloads in grey-scale. It took me a moment to realize the family wasn’t walking around and I began to wander freely. I find them sleeping and discover bread crumbs of the other tenants lives found in glowing journals. We’ll get back to that a bit later on. During the night is where you come upon the sleeping Dan and whisper your choice in his ear, after selecting a compromise if you want/can. And this continues for nine chapters. There is no real way to fail the game. Even with everyone spooked, you could still make one choice, just not any compromises.
What I didn’t like…
Earlier, I mentioned the glowing ghost journals. I hate cliffhangers and ultimately, that’s all the ghost journals are. They are repetitive and serve no real purpose other than establishing a pattern of behavior. I enjoyed the snippets of stories, however, I would rather of had some hints to the origin of the ghost. After beating the game twice, I’m still not sure who or what the ghost is or what happened to any of the people introduced in the ghost journals. I know that this is what the developer intended and I understand it’s use, I am just not a fan. Felt the same way when I finished reading the last of the Darth Bane trilogy.
Additionally, it’s boring to replay. The story is way more interesting the first time through. I only see the need to complete it more than once to see everyone disappointed or if you didn’t like your first play through. It would have been nice to have a “new game plus” kind of option which gives you resolutions on the ghost journals at the very least.
The Novelist is a unique take on the stealth genre and the main story is one full of choice and consequence. If you enjoy a quick, story-driven game where your decisions matter, this is a game for you. If you’re looking for a difficult stealth game, you won’t find it here. The Kaplans timeless struggles are something we can all relate to. 76.
Developer: Orthogonal Games