(Germany 2016, developer/publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4)
During an air raid on their town, young boy Noah loses his sister in a bunker when a door opens to the world of Silence, a fantasy world between life and death that is in turmoil because of a queen and her dark creatures.
Remembering the past and dwelling on the present
Continuing stories with a more or less satisfying conclusion, especially after so many years, isn’t the easiest thing to do and it’s even more difficult to understand for those who haven’t experienced the original in the first place. While Daedalic does a good job of telling a new story that is connected to the old one, new players will have a hard time figuring out what is going on, despite past events being recounted in a quite emotional scene at the beginning. So one should definitely play the first game, as the sequel contains major spoilers, ruining some of the surprising elements that made the first game’s plot more poignant.
However, even if one knows the world of Silence, it doesn’t prevent the story to still come across as rushed and also superficial fantasy fare with the typical Daedalic/German melancholic touch. Despite trying to be epic in scale, e.g. with a group of rebels fighting against oppression, and more action-focused, there isn’t much of a story progression to speak of. Sure, there are some wonderful moments and the world-building is very well done, but as a whole, it’s not memorable enough to stick out of the dreamworlds/otherworlds seen in so many games. It might be unfair to compare it to a game as long as The Longest Journey, because playtime is astonishingly short with only 4-5 hours, but it shows that a story isn’t necessarily captivating or touching if one throws in two siblings trying to escape or save a world between life and death.
Stop crying and being sad
A world needs convincing characters, and these aren’t really worth writing about here. The Whispered World didn’t have a lot, but it had a few with some funny lines. Here interacting with NPCs is more like watching an interactive movie, one that doesn’t provide them with much depth. It’s also too bad that the two siblings don’t really grow on the player, especially with Renie becoming even whinier than Sadwick in the first game. There are some interesting personal transformations with her brother, and some dialogues are well-written, but the way how the writing tries to tear at one’s heart strings is often exaggerated.
The same holds true for unnecessary swearing, which might have to do with the involvement of writer Anne von Vaszary who already used excessive profanity in Black Mirror II and Black Mirror III, something that feels completely out of place here. Some cuter scenes also come with more sugar-coating than a Disney movie can throw at you, making it another bittersweet experience. As great as Spot looks as a cuddly character, there is only so much one can take before it becomes unintentionally funny.
If one can get over the forced emotional scenes and a story that doesn’t tell anything particularly new (especially for those who’ve completed the first game, as it treads familiar storytelling terrain), there’s still a lot to like about the game, i.e. the gameplay. Being able to play three characters, witnessing scenes from different perspectives with Renie, Noah, and Spot respectively is very well done, not only for narrative purposes, but also for puzzle solving. While puzzles are mostly done in one or two locations, the second half of the game and especially the final portions, require more lateral thinking, even without an actual inventory. That’s right, this is a point-and-click adventure game in which items aren’t combined in a cluttered toolbox, but they’re immediately used on characters and the environment. This works surprisingly well and there is even some item swapping between characters, although in a much more accessible way compared to other games, i.e. one only swaps important ones.
Using Spot again makes up for the more inventive puzzle segments, as he can change his form into a balloon or spit fire among other things. All in all, the puzzles are usually a lot of fun and are nowhere near as unfair as in the original game. Accessibility obviously brings less difficult puzzles at times, but there are still a few head-scratchers even for seasoned players. Now puzzles fit more naturally in story progression and world-building with less emphasis on superficial logic puzzles and more fantastic examples of what one can do in a story-driven adventure game without relying too much on QTEs. These are sadly the only part the game doesn’t get right, because without the player having a chance to react accordingly, cheap deaths are too numerous at times.
Decide your fate and control yourself
Another missed opportunity is decision-making. Despite being able to answer differently in certain situations, the outcome is the same, except for the finale when choosing sides rewards the player with two different endings. A bit more moral ambiguity or consequences that change the course of the story would have been nice, especially since modern adventure games and gaming in general offer so much more in player-driven narratives. For a game that is built around consoles, gamepad controls work quite well with puzzles, something that can’t be said about most point-and-clickers that have tried the transition, even if it means that now using a mouse to move objects results in uncomfortable holding positions.
Focusing on smaller play areas doesn’t mean claustrophobic spaces as in The Walking Dead: Season 1 or The Walking Dead: 400 Days, but it becomes noticeable that the formerly expansive world of Silence has been miniaturized, which is a shame, as there are a few breathtaking vistas shown in some scenes. Being more linear than the first game adds to the cinematic presentation, but is somewhat detrimental to immersion, as many locations feel like puzzle boxes one needs to solve in order to progress. Another problem is the automatic saving system that only allows one slot. This wouldn’t be too much of a hassle if it weren’t for cut-scenes that can’t be skipped, so entire segments of the game have to be replayed (together with QTEs and puzzles) if one decides to stop playing for a while.
Cinematic 2D/3D and audio cues
Technically, Silence is Daedalic’s most impressive game to-date and even for the genre of 2D/3D hybrids as a whole. The mixture of 3D character models, hand-drawn backgrounds and cinematic cameras works extremely well. Fantastic lighting effects, convincing facial animations as well as character animations (with Spot being even cuter than before) that don’t become as repetitive as in other adventure titles further complement the amazing art direction. Unfortunately the graphics quality comes with a bitter aftertaste, as loading times between screens are uncomfortably long.
Sound-wise, there’s also a lot to like, with a really good variety of different instruments in the beautiful score. Production values are also high in the voice acting department. This time the English version even surpasses the German one, at least in the case of Renie, as the German voice actress sounds too amateurish, making her sappy character even more difficult to relate to.
A different, but improved sequel… sort of
Daedalic Entertainment’s Silence is a marvelous achievement in presentation with a wonderful soundtrack, great voice acting, unparalleled 2D hand-drawn/3D rendered graphics, and an art direction that fits nicely in the The Whispered World canon. Puzzles are also imaginative and controls are usually responsive, which isn’t an easy thing to do when moving to consoles. Unfortunately, the story is predictable and often rushed, the characters aren’t memorable, and the emotional scenes don’t always work to the game’s favor. A very short playtime and linearity won’t be to anyone’s taste, either, especially since there are other cinematic story-driven games (of the episodic variety) that offer more freedom of choice. The game certainly improves on the original, but it also makes quite a few other mistakes.
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