“With subtle details, a very ambiguous narrative and emotional music I was left crestfallen and hoping the games slow pace might pick up only to be disappointed with bland restricted gameplay. “
I agree games should be labeled as art because in theory art is something one or many have created. The Chinese Room—best known for games like Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs—has taken a heavily narrative focus set in a bucolic town of England during the 1980’s. The thing is the focus seemed too much on the story and writing than providing us with solid gameplay which in the end had me yawning and begging for the experience to be over already.
The game starts off completely swallowed in mystery. Everybody seems to have randomly disappeared leaving you to be the lone survivor. Survivor of what exactly is the question and is up to you to explore a gorgeous countryside and unravel the mysteries. The way of uncovering the secrets lies in a peculiar glowing ball of light which is your navigational friend. This ball of light will float around leading you to important occurrences that happened before “the event”. These occasions show off past meetings (or alterations) between the town folks. They are displayed through a show of lights and are delivered excellently with superb voice acting. These characters discuss strange things happening around the town while also battling personal burdens. The music helps stimulate some of the more intense encounters you come across. Haunting hymns and a beautiful orchestra pulls on your heart-strings a bit as you feel sympathy for these poor souls.
The strange happenings are very subtle and it is up to you to explore and piece together the phenomena. You are free to wander around freely and go at your own pace but that is one of the biggest problems this game has, the pacing. Your character moves incredibly slow and can totally ruin the pacing of the game because of this. They do have a sprint (more like a jog) button that requires holding down the right trigger but this is a gradual run. Most people have completely overlooked this simple mechanic (me included) because I wasn’t getting an instant run effect. The walking speed decreases even more when you enter a building and even more when walking up or down a set of stairs. Maybe the meaning behind this decision was to let you focus on your surroundings and interact more carefully. The thing is, you barely interact with anything, other than opening up doors and eavesdropping on ghostly glowing humans. There are no puzzles, no platforming in any shape, you are simply tasked of walking and listening repeatedly. After about a 5 hour journey I was left scratching my head but more importantly, relieved. It almost seemed such a waste to have this extraordinary countryside with no ability to interact with and an incredible sedate pacing. Because of this the characters I started to care about became just an obstacle in order to advance the game.
Final Word:The Chinese Room introduces us to an abandoned countryside where a mysterious event has wiped out the residents of this small English town. With subtle details, a very ambiguous narrative and emotional music I was left crestfallen and hoping the games slow pace might pick up only to be disappointed with bland restricted gameplay.