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The Novelist | Review

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Platforms: PC/Mac

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.

The Kaplans: Dan, Tommy and Linda

The Kaplans: Dan, Tommy and Linda

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 Novelist - Typewriter - Write my Life

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.

Tommy’s car; Tommy's resolution

Tommy’s car; Tommy’s resolution

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.

Linda's Memory

Linda’s Memory

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.

Stephanie is an aspiring novelist who loves writing—both fiction and non-fiction—and enjoys editing. Having graduated from University studying Professional Writing and Editing, she continues to do what she loves most: writing novels, short stories and poetry, as well as writing and editing articles for the site and listening to her favourite band, Linkin Park. But apart from writing, there is one other primary passion of hers. Video games. From playing Monkey Island on Microsoft DOS, to Doom, Mario, The Sims, Grand Theft Auto and Tomb Raider, her love for video games became a part of her life at a young age and they always will be.

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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