What a difference!
Unlike most of these walk-around-a-room-and-look-at-stuff games, where you’re just rifling through someone else’s belongings like a burglar while musing idly on the past, here they actually make an effort to engage you in real time.
Yeah, turns out, a great way to liven up a game is by having things actually happen during it.
In this case the happenings mostly involve the phone. Your wife or girlfriend or whoever she is keeps calling you with updates on her rapidly deteriorating situation. That’s what moves the plot along. Basically, she leaves a message and you go off to do some mundane task until she calls again.
Well, when you put it that way I guess it doesn’t sound very exciting; but little by little with each call they manage to build up a surprisingly tense atmosphere.
A lot of it has to do with the voice actress on the answering machine, who’s the only real human contact you have throughout the game. She does a really good job of conveying her escalating confusion and fear.
Meanwhile, on your end there’s not much going on. The fading daylight is your only other cue that time is passing. There are a couple of ominous signs, most notably the slightly ajar back door into which you could read volumes, but otherwise all of your information is second-hand. That’s probably the game’s biggest shortcoming.
Maybe they wanted to create this sort of sharp division in order to contrast your wife’s frantic desperation with your relative paralysis, confined to your home, her voice your only window to the events outside.
That seems better suited to a more psychological type of story, though, one that’s focused on doubting your fundamental perceptions and knowledge. For a straightforward rollercoaster-climb like this, a few more subtle touches really would have helped to build the tension, or at least drive home the ending more forcefully when it arrived.
You know, nothing over the top, but just enough to deepen the uncertainty. Barely audible sirens in the distance that could just be your imagination. Indistinguishable voices of your neighbors outside. A suddenly interrupted TV broadcast. The power flickering. Maybe you could find a way to move the world’s heaviest laundry basket and head up to the second floor for an obstructed view of the street. And that’s not even to mention what they might have done with your character’s actions.
If they had spent more time thinking about how to incorporate details like this into their own game instead of trying to cram cutesy references to other games and pop culture into every spare inch of empty space, they could have had a real gem on their hands here.
As it is, I’m not sure they really earn their ending.
Without a more solid foundation for the conclusion, the whole thing falls a bit flat and ends up feeling like a missed opportunity in a lot of ways; but at least they were on the right track with this sort of game for once.