I am all over the damn place with this blog lately. Haven’t even done my 2013 GOTY and I’m already one shitty Kickstarter and one finished game down. I’m not looking at Kickstarter until I write the GOTY post, and I’ll try not to finish any other games. The latter shouldn’t be too hard, considering how awful I generally am at it. But that didn’t stop me from completing the 2 hours it took for one playthrough of The Novelist.
The closest comparison I can make to The Novelist is Gone Home. That may instantly sound like high praise, since I loved Gone Home so much – and it is. I like games that do things differently, and with the current state of the video game industry, all that takes is refraining from shooting every living thing in sight and physics puzzles. But The Novelist has way more in common with Gone Home than that.
In Gone Home, you play a girl coming home from college to an empty house. You get the feeling like you don’t belong there – as if you are a stranger lurking through the house, piecing together the story of what has been going on with your family. In The Novelist, you play a ghost in an occupied house, and sneak around piecing together what is currently going on in the lives of the family staying there, and even make decisions for them, trying to balance out all of their needs.
The game is broken up into chapters, in which each character has a goal, conflicting with the goals of the other two family members. For each chapter, you search the house for clues, read each of the characters’ memories, and then read their thoughts to find out what it is they wish to do. You can only choose one of the goals, but if you discover more than one character’s goals, you can make a compromise, partly satisfying another character – always leaving at least one family member completely unfulfilled.
I have one bone to pick with The Novelist, and that’s “stealth mode”. It’s optional, and thank baby Jesus for that, because it’s fucking ridiculous. It’s as if someone on the development team got scared that the game wasn’t “gamey” enough, and shoehorned stealth elements into it. It doesn’t even make any sense – you’re a ghost, but the people in the house can see you unless you possess a lighting fixture. So you have to teleport your spiritual presence from light to light, only emerging for brief periods to enter someone’s memory or read a document they left lying around. And if they spot you, the whole screen goes white until they *really* see you, at which point the character becomes “spooked”. In this state – though it didn’t seem to be the case in my playthrough – I read that you can’t choose that character’s preference for the chapter. Fuck that. Play this game in “story mode” if you don’t feel like wasting your time sitting inside of lighting fixtures waiting for someone to turn around so you can sneak a peek at a letter on their desk.
It might be obvious from my description so far that there are many different ways to complete The Novelist. Part of me wants to go back and make different choices to see the different outcomes, and I may do that. But based on my first playthrough, I worry that the only differences will be in the text at the end of the chapter, and, of course, the game. I did notice a couple of small changes within the house that seemed to be triggered by my choice in the previous chapter, but they don’t appear to affect the game in any real way.
If there’s one other small gripe I have with The Novelist, it’s that the choices were sometimes absurd. Mom wants to wash a shirt, but son wants to work on math problems, and dad wants to work on his book? By golly, what is this family to do? Guess we’ll just have to pick one, and spend all day on it. You can tell that they tried to make conflicting desires for the characters, but sometimes it really fell flat.
None of this stopped me from enjoying my time with The Novelist. I think it’s an good game that’s probably perfect for people who think that other titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home don’t have enough gameplay. I think those people are heathens, but this might be just the game for those heathens.