Sunday, July 10, 2016

Artistic Creation vs. Artistic Consumption, “The Silent Age” Game Review

When it comes to works of creativity, I harbor a prideful fear of going through life being a consumer rather than a creator. It’s a silly thing to be hung up on for several reasons; one being that art and literature needs consumers, and another being that it’s a rarely a dichotomy—most of us are both creators and consumers to varying degrees and at various times in our lives. Right now, I’m a consumer. My creative fire remains dashed with wet sand, and I’m trying to let of go of forcing it to light. I e-mailed a friend of mine recently and said that I think the muse is like a cat. If you chase it down waving your arms and making demands, it sprints off and hides. But if you just ignore it, it will eventually sidle up to you, and maybe even curl up on your lap and purr.

As a consumer, I’ve been playing a lot of interactive story games. I reviewed “Firewatch” last week, and after I finished that (rather short) game, I played through the award-winning “The Silent Age.” To give you some context, a number of years ago I played a game called “Syberia”, a two-part point-and-click adventure that I found astounding. I was so emotionally involved in the characters and the story that I cried at the end of it. I have been chasing that point-and-click dragon ever since, but no game has yet satisfied me as completely. That is, until “The Silent Age.” I was so excited about this game that I actually took the time to e-mail the developers and thank them.

“The Silent Age” centers on Joe, an ordinary janitor living in the early 1970’s, who works for Archon, a large national defense corporation. At the opening of the game, Joe gets called in to the CEO’s office, where he is informed that he is getting a “promotion”—sans increased pay or a more prominent title. Joe’s work buddy Frank left Archon suddenly, and Joe, in addition to his regular duties, is now responsible for Frank’s former duties in Archon’s top-secret lab. Puzzled but taking it in a stride, Joe arrives at the lab, where he finds a trail of blood that eventually leads to a dying man named Lambert. Lambert claims to be a time traveler from the future. He gives Joe a hand-held, solar powered time-traveling device (basically, a big green button) and tells him that the survival of mankind is dependent on Joe traveling to the future to warn Lambert of the impending doom so he can stop it.

The gameplay itself is very meditative; simple but ingenious. I thought I was going to be annoyed by the time-travel clicker device, but it turned out to be one of most fun aspects of the game, which is good, because it’s central to the gameplay. Many times, you have to click back and forth between the post-apocalyptic future and the 70’s present in order to accomplish a goal. It requires some critical thinking and attention to detail, but the puzzles are very common-sense. In fact, I only needed to consult a walk-through once, for an exasperatingly fiendish puzzle involving a retina scanner. Most of the gameplay takes place in a very limited landscape, so if you get stumped, it won’t be long before the process of elimination solves the problem for you. I know some people like to complain about game puzzles not being challenging enough, but I’m lazy. I like mine to be just hard enough to give me a mild sense of accomplishment.  

But it’s the story that’s the real star of the game. The graphics and gameplay are simple, but the storyline is elaborate and complex, and eventually delves deep into top-level governmental conspiracy territory. In between, there are some delightful scenes involving a bevy of side-characters, including a groovy bartender who knows how to make a mind-blowing drink, man. Joe is mild-mannered and plain-spoken, and by the end of the game, I came to care for him and appreciate his pragmatic approach to his predicament. This is another good “starter game” if you haven’t played a point-and-click before. It’s heavily narrative in nature, so it helps if you like to read—you’ll be doing a lot of that in “The Silent Age.”

Perhaps soon I will have something of my own to create. But for now, I’ve started on “Life is Strange,” a game by Dontnod Entertainment. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and I have a lot to say about it, not all of it good. But it will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime, enjoy very this deliberately-paced teaser for “The Silent Age.”

--Kristen McHenry

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