Developer: Kent Hudson
Publisher: Orthogonal Games
Rating: E (ESRB)
Review code provided by Orthogonal Games
Time is the essence of everything: our lives, our future. What we do with it is our choice, and the choices we do make will affect someone or something in some way. There is a consequence to everything, whether good or bad, and it’s up to you to choose wisely. The Novelist, by Orthogonal Games, is a fine example of this. Not only is it enjoyable, it’s interesting, deep and creative.
Every character’s fate and their outcome in life is on you, but the most important question you must ask yourself is “whose needs are more important?” The choice is yours.
Meet the Kaplans, a family of three. Dan is a novelist, one whose novel isn’t going as well as he hoped it would. Linda is a painter who hopes to open her own art show. And Tommy is their son, a boy who struggles learning at school and is bullied as a result of that.
The Kaplans decided to move to an isolated house on the beach during the summer to get away from their troubles, but their troubles only travelled with them. Dan and Linda’s marriage isn’t getting any better. They are growing more distant each day and it doesn’t help that Dan’s dream of being a bestselling author is getting in the way of his family, driving a wedge between them. Linda and Tommy try their best to understand and support his dream, but his distance affects both of them in different ways, and at the end of the day, you must decide what is more important, a dream or your family?
The game is played in first person perspective. It’s uncertain who you are—who you play as—but it is implied that you are a spirit living in the house who has the ability to help and fulfil one person’s needs and wants in each of the nine chapters. Depending on which option you choose, whether it’s Story or Stealth, the family cannot see you. If you play it on Stealth, however, you have to remain hidden otherwise it will spook the family. In order to hide, you need to possess and jump from light to light around the house. The further you progress through the story, some lights won’t be available to possess, making it a bit more challenging.
There will be times when you need to free roam which exposes you. Free roam enables you to read notes and view drawings left around the house. Each note—including letters from the previous owners who have suspicions of the house—and drawings provide more backstory to their past and also their current problems/dilemmas. Dan and Linda typically write entries whereas Tommy uses his drawings to express his feelings—his drawings change depending on the choices you make.
As the spirit, you are able to read each character’s mind to see what is bothering them, and also sneak up behind and enter their memories. Entering their memories provides a better insight to their past, along with their problems. If you find all of the clues around the house—letters and notes—and also explore their memories, it will reveal their wants and what they want resolved in the chapter—their resolution—however, only one can be chosen, but if you succeed in finding everything that is needed to be discovered and remain unseen in Stealth mode, it will unlock a compromise, meaning you can satisfy another character’s wants.
For example: if you decide to choose Dan’s resolution, having him work on his novel, then choose a compromise for Tommy, Dan will have his wants fulfilled and Tommy will be a little happy that Dan took some time away from his writing to spend time with his son. Tommy will still be a little disappointed that he wasn’t first priority, and his wife, Linda, will be disappointed also. When it’s time to choose a resolution, you must choose the character’s desired object which is highlighted in blue, an example being Dan’s typewriter, then whisper your decision to Dan while he is asleep.
A key factor that must be kept in mind is that every action and decision you make will have consequences which are revealed at the end of each chapter.
Throughout my gameplay I felt almost like an invisible intruder who sees and understands everything. I also felt responsible for Dan, Linda and Tommy which made deciding between each of them difficult as someone will always be disappointed by my choices, leaving me feeling guilty for failing them.
The voice acting is well done, and although the beginning of the game is a little slow, it eventually picks up once it comes to making tough decisions and also when you try to make sense of things, such as who the spirit is and what happened to the previous owners of the house. The controls are smooth, though at times I experienced a slight lag and a technical glitch, and the story is believable. The story, overall, adapts to your choices.
When it comes to the end of the game, there is more than one ending, and after playing through this short game a couple of times, my ending and the outcome of each character’s life—including their future—differed.
The Novelist really is a game about life, family and the choices we make. It shows how tough decision making and sacrifice can be, as well as how one certain choice can affect the rest of your life and affect those you love the most, even if it is not spending much time with them.
At the end of the day, whose happiness is more important? Dan, Linda or Tommy’s? You decide.
The Novelist can be purchased on the The Novelist’s official website or on Steam.