|Sometimes it's fun to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and think about the glory days of adventure gaming. The days when a swinger in a leisure suit and a space janitor ruled the minds of gamers and their (mis-)adventures brought a smile to your face. |
How times have changed.
While the genre has remained relatively the same over the years, which may account, partially, for its downfall, the sophistication of the adventure has changed ten-fold. As much as we wish Sam & Max were still here, it's almost time to face the music on one of gaming's most enduring genres. Still, even with a dissipation of interest in adventure games by the first-person-shooter-crazed public, there are still games being released by a few companies.
The Adventure Company's Moment of Silence transports us to mid-21st century New York in an "investigative thriller" full of alien conspiracies and intrigue. The game starts with your character, Peter Wright, witnessing a heavily armed tactical team hauling off his neighbor. Soon after their departure, Peter goes to talk to the man's wife and learns that there may be more to this situation than it seems (and there very well should be, or this would go down as the shortest game in the history of gaming). Through Peter's travels he'll stumble upon a colorful cast of characters who add a little bit to the story (sometimes) or provide an insight into our main character's past.
As an adventure game, point-and-click gameplay is expected, and we get it here. Peter can interact with his environment via left or right clicking the mouse. Double clicking forces him to, awkwardly, run to his destination while a single click will either offer an examination of the object in question or and interaction with it. The gameplay is simple enough, but where adventure games shine is in the story and entertainment value, and this is where The Moment of Silence comes up with a mixed bag.
One on hand there is a surprisingly deep story contained in here, yet on the other, you're almost driven to tears by how bored you can actually become playing for more than 30 minutes at a time. The game's developer, House of Tales, decided to make a great portion of the game entirely dialog-based, so instead of solving complex puzzles or tracking clues, a la the excellent Broken Sword series, you're forced to listen to people talk about things that may or may not be relevant to your adventure. More times than not, what people say has nothing to do with your adventure. Luckily for you, a simple click on the mouse forwards you to the next sound bite, but you never know when a vital clue will be in the middle of a 10-minute conversation.
The obtuse dialog might not be so bad if it weren't for some poor scripting/translation. Often characters will repeat themselves over and over again. It usually comes down to one character saying "I think he was wearing black pants," and Peter responding, "Pants? You mean the object you put on your legs and fasten at the torso?" Now, granted, this isn't an exact line from the game, but some of the most basic things are spelled out like a second-grade English class learning vocabulary. The dialog trees themselves also force characters to repeat lines over and over which becomes grating. Even in the less-awkward moments, the flow of speech isn't perfect, and it's quite obvious that dialog was recorded at different times as a character's voice could change tone or volume in mid-sentence. House of Tales also included many NPCs in some areas of the game, but usually you can't speak to them, and some are clearly seen but entirely inaccessible.
Another nagging problem is the questionable path finding for Peter when he's moving about the world. There will be times when travel should be a straight line, but your character must go completely around a host of other objects to get to his destination. Add in invisible walls, like a clearly visible path that won't let you pass, and you get an extra dose of frustration when maneuvering and exploring.
Fortunately, Moment of Silence looks good with a mix of pre-rendered backgrounds, modeled characters, and some nifty effects here and there. Especially impressive are the photorealistic environments such as Peter's office building, with fully reflective flooring. For the most part the pre-rendered elements look the best and really show off the art department at House of Tales; regrettably, there are some glaring problems with the character models. Aside from some bizarre animations, graphical glitches like major clipping hinder some scenes. In one example my character managed to pass completely through another walking in the opposite direction. Similarly, talking to a prostitute on the Lower East Side revealed that a cigarette can spontaneously hold the exact same position even when the smoker looks away. There's nothing game-shattering wrong, but its still disappointing.
The Moment of Silence succeeds on the level of past adventure games by providing a story to follow and a user-friendly, pick-up-and-play gameplay-mechanic, yet the over-abundance of dialog (good and bad), bad path finding, and some minor graphical issues quell any hopes you might have of this being another break-out hit that keeps the genre chugging along. If the characters in the game had read the title of the project their participating in, and stayed silent a bit more, I might be able to offer a higher score. As it stands now, only the die-hard adventure fan should pick up a copy. Everyone else will find themselves completing that Rubik's cube while the careless banter projects from their speakers, or popping in a copy of The Sleeping Dragon and enjoying its marvels.