Backlog – The Novelist
You know what’s great? Bundle sales! You know what sucks? Getting a bunch of games in bundle sales that you never play! Due to my lack of proper time management and my wretched memory, the backlog of games in my possession that I have never even installed is pretty huge. So I’ve decided to buckle down and play every single one. First up is The Novelist.
Unless I’m throwing twitch fits over a game’s release (*cough*DragonAgeInquisition*cough*) I will probably wait to play it. And sometimes I accidentally wait. And wait. And wait. I sometimes wait until I’ve completely forgotten the game existed. Inevitably one day I boot up my PC, blow the dust off of it like it’s an old tome and am surprised to find a bunch of presumably great games that I haven’t enjoyed yet.
Thankfully, I had some time this past weekend to play The Novelist, a narrative based player choice game from Orthogonal Games wherein you act as a presence in a home that observes and guides a family through some tough times. I’ll try to avoid spoilers here since if you’re reading this I might assume that you’re like me and haven’t quite gotten around to playing it yet.
There are two modes in which you can play the game. You can play in stealth, which means you have to tiptoe around the family and avoid being seen by them. If they catch sight of you, they’ll get spooked, and you’ll lose out on options to use to help improve their existence. You can also play in story mode, which is what I did. There is no penalty for bumping into them or being in their direct line of sight.
The story follows Dan Kaplan, the titular character who is at a critical point in both his career and marriage. He, his wife Linda, and their son Tommy have all come to a scenic vacation rental home in an idyllic forest setting for what they hope is a fresh start. Dan hasn’t published anything in a good while and pressure from his publisher and the stress of his home life have contributed to a serious case of writer’s block. He’s feeling hopeless and down on himself.
As an observer, the player can hang out near the family, watch them go about their lives, listen to their comments and conversations, read their thoughts, and figure out the motivations of each person. What do they want? What do they love? What is most important to them? How can they get it?
During each chapter, the player is able to enter and explore the memories of the family members. In a quiet, spectral setting, echoes of memories can be found, and they can help inform your choices. While the family sleeps there is also the opportunity to learn more about the history of the home and the events that occurred there including the mystery of who you might be. Once the player finds out everything about what each individual family member wants, there are some hard choices to make.
Do you help Dan concentrate more on his book so that he can power through and get it done at the possible expense of his family relationships? Do you risk disappointing little Tommy by not going to to the air show or do you make sure Dan spends some decent quality time with him after all at the risk of his writing becoming sub par.
It’s a delicate and challenging balancing act. Your choices determine the fate of this family, and at times it is absolutely heart-wrenching. More than once I found myself feeling helpless and sad. There are no real wrong or right answers, and much like in life things are complicated. It’s a series of compromises that you hope will have the better, if not the best outcome.
The Novelist takes 2-3 hours to play, and it’s a beautifully well woven together story. I’m thinking I should definitely check my game list far more often. Maybe you should do the same!