Wadjet Eye Games doesn’t only develop interesting games, but also publish them, in this case a unique blend of point-and-click adventure with historical background and real-life characters in the form of Grundislav Games’ Roaring Twenties drama A Golden Wake.
Young real estate agent Alfie Banks moves from New York to sunny Miami to try his luck in the 1920s Florida Land Boom.
The real downfall of the small man in America
The most interesting aspect of storytelling is that the plot and characters are based on real-life events and people, illustrating the rise and fall of the city of Coral Gables and its various entrepreneurs. It goes through various important parts of American history like the Great Depression and handles this quite well in its depiction of the city and its inhabitants. It’s a tragic story of a man who goes through the motions by experiencing gains and losses throughot. So it’s like the American Dream or Nightmare personified in Banks, someone like The Great Gatsby. Unfortunately, the presentation isn’t without its problems.
Characters and stories from real life
It’s commendable to portray a realistic character, but by doing so, one shouldn’t forget about some actual excitement. Before the story gets really interesting , it takes quite a while (after one third of the playtime), during which conversations aren’t the most interesting to have. If this means showing mundane work life, then the writing succeeds. But fleshing out characters can be done in less words, so only in the final chapters and scene does one actually start to feel sympathy or even regret for Banks and his decisions. This isn’t helped by often abrupt jumping from one scene or time to another, as transitions aren’t very smooth. Characters rarely overcome their archetypal manners of the American Dream or Nightmare. They’re simply not memorable enough to stick out, which is a shame, because a tangible sense of place and time of the different eras is present.
This mainly has to do with the introduction of various historical characters, but who aren’t that interesting to interact with during gameplay. Conversations are kept to a bare minimum, and while one gets a sense of who these people are, it’s unlikely one wants to return to this world or meet them in real life, as is so often the strength of point-and-click adventure NPCs. As a positive, there are a fair few instances when one has to make moral decisions. These have a subtle effect on the ending when one can again choose between two actions. Still, the main storyline with all its twists and turns stays the same.
Convincing, puzzling, and mini-gaming
Gameplay-wise, there’s also not a whole lot to do in terms of puzzle solving. It’s on a beginner’s level with clear goals in each chapter. This gives the game a certain do-three-tasks-to-become-a-pirate (or more successful person) vibe, and it’s nice to sometimes be given the oppportunity to solve them in any order. What’s also great is the inclusion of a persuasion mechanic which works similarly to L.A. Noire‘s interrogation scenes. But here one has to convince certain people to either buy a specific idea or goods. By looking at the expression of a character, one can assume if one’s on the right track. Unfortunately, this is only shown near the end of a conversation when it’s often too late (or one uses a hint tool). Luckily, one can still continue by approaching the person or task at hand with an alternative puzzle solution, which makes re-playing also interesting. Dying can also happen too often, so restarting certain scenes with not enough time to react can be a pain.
Puzzles are usually not that innovative and often repeat themselves, like finding specific items for a person, but there are instances in which they almost beome memorable, e.g. finding the correct order of books to open a secret door. Oonly this sort of puzzle has to be done again with holding up bottles later on. Some solutions are also obscure with almost no hints, while characters rarely have anything helpful to say. To mix things up a bit, there are a couple of mini-games. Some are actually quite fun, like a house inspection that plays like a hidden-object game. Others are downright annoying to control. Like a stunt show during which one has to control a car and more or less guess where the plane flies to, after which the stunt man (in this case a woman) climbs on it.
Looking and sounding so 20s
The look and sound of the game captures the 20s era quite well with a paintlike quality to the hand-drawn backgrounds. The swing/jazz music is also great to listen to. However, the low-res graphics often provide some less detailed character portraits and washed-out backgrounds with few moving objects. Voice acting is also not the greatest with some fairly amateurish examples.
This isn’t helped by the re-used locations and characters. It’s an interesting idea to show them in different time periods, but if they only have the same thing to say every time and during/after a certain sad incident one has people still dancing on the main protagonist commenting on this as if nothing happened, something’s definitely not right.
A part of history to play
A Golden Wake is an interesting entry in the adventure genre with an emphasis on characters and plot which reflect the American Dream and its downfall, while also showing compassionate scenes of hope. Unfortunately, the edutainment message is brought home with its fair share of problems. Not only do graphics and sound fail to impress, but the whole gameplay is rather unspectacular with few interesting puzzles, sometimes clunky controls in mini-games, and some general problems in the storytelling department. It’s certainly no bad game by any means, it’s simply too average in gameplay, while story and characters can be found with better writing by reading The Great Gatsby or other literature.
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