PC/Mac Reviews

The Novelist Review: Reader’s Block

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The Novelist is a game that features tons of reading and forces you to work at maintaining fictitious relationships while offering you the opportunity to ironically neglect real ones of your own. Taking the role of a friendly poltergeist who inhabits a summer home the Kaplan family has come to occupy, you’ll float around the confines of the home and read over the shoulders of budding writer Dan (the patriarch), aspiring artist Linda, and the couple’s child Tommy (who really, really, really likes to draw).

The gameplay comes across as a blend of an old EA title called Haunting and a cheesy episode of Casper where you possess lights to move quickly around the house and enter the memories of its inhabitants in order to discover what motivates them. As each chapter progresses you will have the chance to influence the outcome of the story by siding with one particular family member’s desires, or attempting to reach a compromise between parties.

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“This has to stop…”

Unfortunately the action of the title remains as static as the game’s loading screen, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that more really ought to be happening at any given time – particularly if you have poignant (and pleasant) memories of scaring the Sardinis of yesteryear. While you can choose who to help and when, what might have been a bit more interesting would be the ability to choose who to push over the edge. Locked in the role of the silent good guy, about the only tense moments you’ll have are if you opt to play the game in “stealth” mode as opposed to “story,” where stealth mode requires that you not allow family members to spot you.

Essentially stealth mode doesn’t enable the ability to fail at the game, but to have sporadic setbacks (as being spotted just resets your position to the overhead light in the living room, while limiting the number of good guy options you have to resolve the chapter); hardly the kind of white-knuckle pacing that gamers are used to. Getting to know the three characters can be fun for a moment, particularly when you come out at night and see old journal entries lying around, hinting at the identities and stories of previous occupants. But it just never goes anywhere.

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The fact that the action in the title is somewhat limited isn’t really the gravest offense, provided that you’re not expecting too much when you first dive in. What certainly hinders enjoyment of the experience is the fact that the same button (the space bar) is used to perform context sensitive actions which are not particularly context sensitive; placing your cursor over a family member may or may not allow you to interact with them, depending on your distance, and may or may not result in you accidentally possessing a nearby lamp instead. This tiny frustration rears its invisible head far too often, as this possession mechanic is the only way in which you have to interact with the world. (So considering that it doesn’t work flawlessly, that’s a serious problem.)

When all’s read and done, upon completion of the story you aren’t necessarily left with a sense of accomplishment, despite the fact that the choices you suggest to Dan in his sleep reflect paths infinitely more divergent than any big budget space epic EA title (*cough Mass Effect 3*). What you are left with is the simple question: shouldn’t The Novelist have had some sort of real plot twist?

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What you know in the beginning is what you know after a few hours of “play,” so unless you’re looking for some self-referential excuse to ponder the nature of the consequences of ignoring one’s family while playing a game about the consequences of ignoring one’s family, then the game doesn’t seem to have much of a message to offer. (Which again is a serious offense, given how much reading is involved.) Still: props for being original. But until the developer comes out with a DLC pack that lets you possess the blender and wreak a little havoc in the Kaplan’s lives, The Novelist will not become a “must read.”

SCORE: 6.0 out of 10

A code for The Novelist was provided to Pixel Related for review.

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