The stealth mechanics feel superficial at times, but this moving exploration of family life is decision-based gaming at its best.
DAN KAPLAN HAS a problem. His new book is going nowhere, he’s drifting apart from his wife Linda and his son Tommy is falling behind at school. In an attempt to try and get his family back on track, he’s rented a haunted summer house in the middle of nowhere.
This would be a horror game in another developer’s hands, but fortunately for Dan, the resident poltergeist in Kent Hudson’s affecting study of fraught family life is a friendly spectre with a knack for making hard decisions. By reading their thoughts and sneaking peeks at their memories and journal entries, you’ll discover what each character really wants during their stay and decide whether to make those desires a reality.
It all sounds simple enough, but there’s rarely an easy answer, as you can only satisfy one character per chapter. Someone’s always going to be upset, deteriorating their relationship with Dan even further, but if you find out what they want, there’s a chance to at least compromise with the remaining characters on their desired outcome. It’s frequently heart-breaking, but finding that delicate, tentative balance makes for an entrancing and engaging game.
The Novelist isn’t afraid to deal you a rotten hand of choices, either. As family life deteriorates, the tone of the Kaplan’s letters and diary entries take a turn for the worse and the house begins to shrink into itself, as doors that were once friendly gateways into family life suddenly only open when someone reluctantly leaves the room.
Concentrating too much on one character at the expense of others can also yield some truly unexpected insights into their respective personalities, which we won’t spoil here.
Sadly, the stealth mechanics, where you must avoid being spotted by the family or risk failing the chapter, are too simplistic. Rigid movement patterns make it too easy to ambush each character and you’ll soon memorise which rooms and lights are the best combos for distracting and possessing them.
Still, The Novelist’s affecting and constantly adapting story more than makes up for any monotony. It’s a much quieter affair than other narrative-based games, but there’s still a real tension when you set foot in the Kaplan realm, and it only increases with every decision you make.
With so much replay value, The Novelist Is a must buy for fans of narrative-based games.