This is a bit of an awkward review to write, given its episodic nature, so I’ll ignore that and treat it as one big game.
~~ Mild, general plot spoilers ahead ~~
First of all, this is very different to Telltale’s stuff. There are no QTEs, you can um and ahh over the decisions a lot more and it is ALL about talking it out with very few actual action bits. That can be good and bad, as it does the talking phenomenally well, but it gets sooo bogged down in it as the game goes on. You could even be forgiven for thinking Episode 5 is just a cutscene with token interactions added to make it a game. Because that is exactly what it feels like.
Continuing the Telltale comparison, the character animations are considerably better at the cost of making the faces and lip syncing beyond terrible. Yeah, the faces are pretty (well…most. Some are just zombies), but as 75%+ of this game is watching characters talk, the lip syncing should have been a hell of a lot better than this.
The game also takes a lot longer than the average Telltale. This is due to long walking scenes (which admittedly set the mood and atmosphere very well) and 10 collectibles per Episode (complete with a collectible mode so you can go back and get the ones you missed), but it’s also because the characters talk so slowly. They say something, then they say it again and then hit it home just once or thrice more just to be sure. As the game is essentially a time travelling detective game, facts are important, but you rarely have to actually remember things as you get prompts and limited dialogue options.
Time Travel Troubles
Speaking of the time travel, it is a fantastic mechanic that is usually implemented very well; it allows creative solutions to problems, allows you to redo conversations you messed up and adds a third layer to the ‘consequence’ decisions of other adventure games. It does, however, create colossal plot holes where rewinding at key points would overcome problems a lot easier than the way you HAVE to. These limitations mean you HAVE to do certain things the way they want, despite them being stupid, dangerous or outright impossible within their own canon.
It’s hard to explain what I mean without going into details of the plot, but it’s mouse-breakingly frustrating for characters to ignore obvious solutions in order to follow the dev’s plot.
On the subject of the plot, it seems to be gearing up a nice detective story in the early episodes with characters falling into place to play their roles, but then takes a neck-breaking turn at BioShock Infinite Junction into pretentious reality-hopping pseudo-drama that causes characters to have a calm conversation about their feelings while the world LITERALLY FALLS APART around them.
If a character says ‘I’ve always wanted to be special’ within spitting distance of a natural disaster, something went wrong in the writing department.
As mentioned above, the vast majority of Episode 5 is spent in pointless false realities that have no bearing on the plot and actually detract from the story by hitting you over the head with nightmarish situations that come from nowhere and go nowhere.
Again without giving exact plot spoilers, at one point you go back and change one detail that should only have affected one minute aspect of the world, but instead it undoes literally everything you just spent an hour doing. That was when this solid recommendation began to crumble a bit.
I like time travel. I like time travel stories. I really like these time travel mechanics, but if you establish a canon of how they work, you 100% MUST stick to that. Ignoring, changing or adding new bits to suit the plot is lazy and serves only to make me not care about or believe in the drama.
And there is a lot of drama. The cast are late-teen art college students. Apparently they ARE drama. Wouldn’t have guessed that, having done a writing degree at university, but apparently that is the case.
Overall, this game has some fantastic ideas and sets up a beautiful scene and world with characters you really care about. But the plot’s insistence on being ‘dramay’ and pretentious beyond compare (it actually beats out Infinite, if not just in weirdness) means that you might not even WANT to finish the final Episode.
Through writing this review I’ve been trying to decide if it’s a positive one or a negative one, but I’m gonna go with positive because this kind of interesting, unique mechanic deserves to be played…if only to learn from the plot mistakes.
This is a fun game with deep – if not repetitive – leads and stunning visuals. Seriously. It’s damn pretty.