Okay, so there I am, less than an hour into House of Tales’ latest point-and-click adventure title The Moment of Silence, and I’m already terrified. And not in a good way, mind you, oh no. Before me stands a little boy, blonde and apparently shell-shocked by the strange kidnapping of his father by riot-gear wearing SWAT-like invaders. When he speaks, oh, it’s frightening.
It’s the accent that does it to me – a hard-to-place vaguely-Slavic lilt that flashes me back, like a virtual soldier with a case of game-related post-traumatic stress disorder, to an earlier adventure title I recently waded through (namely, the sub-par Legacy: Dark Shadows ). Oh, cruel, gods, I moan to myself, as I listen to the tot deliver line after wooden line in his ear-bending patios, this game began so nicely, with a well-rendered opening cinematic and a main character that actually read his lines like an accomplished voice actor and not some half-sauced wino, trading line-reading for shots of Night Train. And now I’m back to this? Will I have to endure much more of this torture?
I’m happy to report that the answer is “No.” In fact, while The Moment of Silence certainly will not revolutionize the adventure genre, it’s at least a solid offering for your gaming dollar, especially if your idea of a good time is spending fifteen to twenty hours clicking through complex dialogue trees and hunting through refreshingly high resolution screens for clues. In fact, developers of these kinds of games could really learn a thing or two about presentation and what makes a story interesting from House of Tales’ production values. Let’s talk specifics.
The Moment of Silence is an adventure title set in the not-too-distant future (2044). The world is much like ours: people still wear clothes that wouldn’t look out of place in modern-day New York City, parks are still oases of greenery amongst the concrete canyons, people still meet strangers and flirt with them in internet chat rooms, and homeless guys smelling of improperly disposed-of body fluids still rant and scream at passers-by about UFOs and the general merits of tin-foil hats.
You play government PR mouthpiece Peter Wright, a leather jacket-wearing, somewhat unshaven sensitive guy who, in the game’s opening cinematic, witnesses a raid on his neighbor’s apartment by gun-toting, riot-gear-wearing, masked police figures. Peter, curious as to why such a thing has happened, decides to speak with the kidnapped man’s wife and child. Troubled by the illogical nature of the raid and eager to help the grieving woman, he embarks on a mission to discover the man’s whereabouts. Along the way, Peter converses with a wide variety of NPCs (over thirty by my count, almost all with richly developed back stories and conversation options), travels to exotic locations, including futuristic Manhattan, the Aracebo Radio Observatory, and later in the game, a space station. You will drive snowmobiles, scuba dive, ride in Zeppelins, and even escape from prison while navigating your way through a darkly Orwellian police-state world.
Not bad for fifteen or so hours of gameplay. And you’ll not go blind staring at poorly rendered backgrounds while you’re at it. The Moment of Silence‘s strength is in its presentation: the DVD format of the game allows for unusually (for the genre, at least) high-resolution graphics, complete with well animated moving elements that keep the scenes fresh and interesting and even the option to enable antilaiasing if your rig can support it.
These technical touches carry over into the audio arena as well. Sound FX are well recorded and do not suffer from many of the shortcomings that I’ve come to expect in adventure games (namely inconsistent recording quality, leading to some FX sounding too loud, others too soft, and all sounding muffled). The dialogue, with the exception of the aforementioned little boy early in the game who scared the bejuzus out of me, sounds like it was read by professional actors standing in an actual recording studio playing characters they actually studied under the watchful eye of an actual director. Refreshing! Special mention must be given to the lead character, Peter – he is given life by one of the better voice-overs I’ve come across in the adventure genre and conveys the character’s moods very well. You will empathize with, laugh at and otherwise relate to this guy as the game progresses, all because of his dialogue.
As a final positive, the game’s plot, while initially a slow-build, does eventually pick up the pace, telling a tale of government corruption and technology outstripping man’s ability to control it, with deadly results. It’s a good tale, once you manage to get past the more mundane background elements of Peter’s past, his work, etc. Fans of the genre very well might eat this unusually thorough back-story up, but for me I found it a bit slow-going initially.
There’s more to a good game, however, than just the presentation aspects. Little things like playability and excitement are indeed important, and it’s in this arena that The Moment of Silence falters a bit.
Navigation through this future world is accomplished by simple left-clicking on a place where you want Peter to go. Double-clicking prompts him to increase his pace to a slow jog, but this movement is slow enough that I often had to stifle a groan as I was forced to cross and re-cross yet another large area from end-to-end on one of the game’s many Fed-Ex retrieval type puzzles. If the developers had allowed for the possibility of direct control via the arrow keys, moving the character around would have been much more engaging than the click-and-wait system the game presents.
Any good adventure title relies heavily on its puzzles, and The Moment of Silence is no exception. While some of them are of the “inventory” variety (combine item A. with item B. to make item C., then use item D. on item C.), many others are dialogue driven. NPCs will, in the course of talking with the player, reveal something that they want or need and then its up to Peter to go get it for them. As a reward, the next location is revealed.
This would be fine if the puzzles weren’t so often either obscure in the extreme, or just tedious. In a particularly frustrating example, Peter is sent off to find and prepare a microwave meal, and must journey all over the city to procure one, figure out how to repair the microwave unit, heat the food and then bring it to the NPC. It just felt like a time-waster to me, and contributed nothing to the game’s otherwise focused story, and in fact had me resenting it for the time it was costing me. Later in the game, the puzzles switch to more of the flavor I like to refer to as “Myst Twiddling of the Knobs,” where you must do some “logic based puzzles” (typically trial and error button-pushing) to advance. Again, more time wasted.
Granted, people generally play adventure titles for just such a challenge, and so others might see what I considered a time-waster aspect of the game as one of its strengths. If you’re one of these folks, then you’ll have several opportunities to indulge yourself through the course of the game.
Another aspect of the game that was a bit overdone was the extensive dialogue options that you encounter for each and every NPC you run across. Usually when you run into an NPC with more than half a dozen lines of dialogue, you tend to perk up. “Ah, here’s someone with important information to impart – I’d better listen up!” Well, in The Moment of Silence, expect virtually everyone to give you his or her life story, motivations, childhood fears and pet phobias in the course of your conversation. This would be fine and dandy if such depth were optional, but in most cases the only way to get the needed nugget of plot-dependent info is to go through each and every dialogue option until they are all exhausted. About halfway through the game I began to dread when I’d meet a new person, because I knew I was in for another round of self-centered whining and grousing before they’d give up the needed informational goods.
But, once again, I know that some people think a game’s at its best when it’s dishing up lines upon lines of dialogue, so if you’re a fan of this aspect of adventure games then this will likely be good news to you. It’s certainly better to have too much information about the people you’re interacting with rather than too little (a sin which, unfortunately, happens too often in adventure games), but the developers probably should have exercised a bit more editorial control over the dialogue writer than they did.
But, these flaws aside, the game delivers a story that’s interesting right up to the end, using a compelling, sympathetic main character and interesting bit-players, and exotic and occasionally unexpected locales and puzzles that, for the most part, feel logical within the framework of the game world – they aren’t intrusive or suspension-of-disbelief-breaking. If you are a fan of the genre whatsoever, then you could certainly do a lot worse than spending your dough on this title.
Gameplay: Navigation is intuitive, if somewhat repetitive. The addition of direct-control keys would have been a welcomed addition, as would have a much faster run speed. Is it really necessary to have Peter move slower than my eighty-year-old grandma and her walker? Puzzles are generally logical and “feel” appropriate for the game world, although a few of the more tedious “FedEx” and “Button Twiddling” errands break the flow of what was otherwise a nicely evolving story.
Graphics: The pre-rendered backgrounds are bright and crisp, showing the player a vision of what the future New York City and elsewhere might be like: Futuristic without being tacky or cheap. The game’s DVD format allows for a pleasingly high-resolution game experience, complete with animated backgrounds and even, if your system can handle the load, antialiased graphics. Character animations are a bit stiff and wooden, but no more so than other popular adventure titles.
Audio: The game’s voice acting is surprisingly well done. I felt like I was listening to a polished, professional production. Quite a nice change from the lifeless, sometimes incomprehensible voiceovers that other recent titles have served up. The game’s sound effects and music are similarly professional and contribute heavily to establishing and maintaining the game’s feeling of brooding menace hidden behind a fa?ade of bright, optimistic technology.
Value: You could probably have cut two or three hours off the game’s final run-time by simply speeding up Peter’s movement. (There’s no reason not to do so, seeing as how you never can directly move him about the screen anyway.) This, coupled with the title’s overly-long dialogue sequences made me feel like the developers were sometimes “padding out” the game’s final run-time, something I resent more and more as my gaming free time is reduced by the pressures of adult life. Replay value seems pretty non-existent (barring some end-game “pass or fail” type situations), as once the plot is revealed then it would no longer have the excitement that comes from unearthing a mystery.
Curve: The game’s high-resolution, slick graphics and top-notch voice acting set a pretty high bar for future adventure titles to try to get over – something this gamer would really like to see happen. If more titles decide to take pages from The Moment of Silence‘s book, particularly in the areas of story and final presentation, then the genre will improve overall. The title’s reliance on the same ol’, same ol’ mission types, however, hurts this score.