The European countryside presents itself as a beautiful backdrop for a video game, and developers have begun to take advantage of this: the seclusion of the Swiss alps will make for an effective horror experience in Mundaun, and the picturesque environments of Norway will accompany the suspenseful and mysterious narrative of Draugen. Production company—and occasional game development studio—Bildundtonfabrik (btf) has taken note for its latest title Trüberbrook, set in the deep countryside of Germany during the Cold War.
The game begins with the player, as young American quantum physicist Hans Tannhauser, entering the small town of Trüberbrook, a remote village in a densely forested area in West Germany. The town, however, is near-uninhabited—the only permanent residents, seemingly, are the local baron, the hotel owner, and her daughter. During his first night in the small village, Tannhauser finds that his scientific notepads have been stolen. With the help of fellow tourist Gretchen Lemke, he sets out to find his stolen notes, discovering and unravelling the town’s deep mystery in the process.
The first thing that players will notice about Trüberbrook is its distinct art style. All of the game’s scenery and backdrops were built as real miniature scale models, before being captured with a 3D scanner and placed into the game engine alongside the hand-drawn, animated characters. The effort that the developer has put into the game’s art style is evident from the opening scene, and each setting to follow is a marvel to look at.
Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be extended to the character animation; while the characters themselves are drawn quite well, with exaggerated facial features matching the cartoonish vibe of the settings, the animations become very unnatural at times. Several characters’ movements and actions do not match their dialogue, leading to awkward encounters wherein someone is told bad news about a loved one but continues to wash dishes with a smile on their face, or in which the sound design indicates the player mounting and sailing a boat but no visual animation is present to match. Thankfully, the janky animations do not detract from the experience too heavily.
Trüberbrook plays as a point-and-click adventure game, requiring the player to move their cursor around the game’s environment to discover items to collect, people to talk to, and locations to explore. Unfortunately, the game’s awkward lighting and angles in some locations forces the player to use the ‘Hotspot Indicator’ button, revealing the locations of the objectives in order to proceed.
Sometimes, however, even this tactic does not work, as the solutions to some problems are so farfetched that the player may struggle to complete the experience. One of the game’s obstacles is to cross a shallow patch of water to obtain an ingredient; however, instead of using the player’s nearby boat or the inflatable device in their inventory, they must find two trash can lids and attach them to a pair of rubber boots in order to “walk on water.” The player’s agency and problem-solving skills are dismissed in favour of an absurd solution to a seemingly simple puzzle, and any ongoing momentum that they had from solving previous puzzles comes to a grinding halt as they must continue in the manner that the developer decided.
Therein lies one of Trüberbrook’s greatest weaknesses, one that is most prevalent in the game’s narrative: pacing. A sudden emergency occurs in the game’s third act, presumably requiring the player’s direct and immediate attention. However, the player is promptly tasked with a treasure hunt, where they must track down a list of items to continue the narrative; an exorbitant amount of trading is involved in this process, as the player talks to the nearby NPCs in the hopes that they have the correct item to proceed. At one point during the trading, the game grinds to a complete halt as the player is forced to watch a full, unskippable cutscene of a musical performance—completely irrelevant and unrelated to the game’s narrative—despite a disaster of potentially apocalyptic proportions occurring simultaneously.
This lack of awareness is a repeating problem throughout the game. When an important character development occurs in the third chapter, the player expects an explanation of motivation, yet none comes—and Tannhauser expresses no interest in discovering the motive behind the actions, so when an explanation finally comes later in the game, it is disappointingly anticlimactic. In a manner that reflects the game’s avant-garde attempt, small moments are met with exaggerated reactions, and significant plot events are met with middling responses, resulting in a confused player who is unaware of what to think.
This awkwardness extends to some elements of gameplay, particularly when backtracking through extensive locales to collect missed items, as well as the script and voice acting; however, given the developer’s German roots, some hiccups in dialogue are understandable.
Thankfully, the awkwardness does not apply to the game’s sound design and music. The gentle jazz melodies accompanying each scene perfectly reflects Trüberbrook’s 1960s setting, only increasing in intensity when the story necessitates it. The ambient sound design of the village is also very pertinent to the location, providing the West German town an additional layer of realism and making the world feel more alive.
Trüberbrook is a unique, yet flawed, experience. The game’s art design is an incredible feat, and the amount of sheer effort on display from the developer is tremendous; every frame of Trüberbrook demonstrates the incredible work that btf has achieved in creating the distinct scenery. However, the game suffers from some narrative issues, most notably in regards to its awkward pacing, and as a result the entire experience is affected. Fans of point-and-click adventure games should give Trüberbrook a fair try, but other gamers may wish to enter with caution.
Reviewed on PC.