The Silent Age is shaping up to be one of the best point-and-click adventure games of recent memory. House on Fire’s crowdfunded effort is being teased out in episodes, and if the first one is anything to go by, we’re in for a special treat.
Between a compelling, well-written story, logical puzzle design, a great touch interface, polished graphics and sound, and an interesting protagonist, there’s almost nothing to fault — almost being a key word there, as its two notable shortcomings are difficulty (it’s easy) and length (this first episode lasts a few hours, tops).
Old-school point-and-click adventuring meets new-school sensibilities in a professional package that combines Americana and cell-shading in its visuals and uses puzzles to further develop the story rather than stand in its way.
Meet Joe, a lowly, unambitious, ordinary janitor at a top-secret organization.
True to the genre, lead-character Joe is your prototypical everyman — an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances by a chance encounter with a lot of blood and a dying man from the future. He’s a janitor — the only one, as his more-experienced colleague mysteriously vanishes — at a big corporation that seems to be crucial to the security of contemporary 1972 America.
The world’s about to end, and only Joe and his fancy new time travel device can keep mankind from extinction. Or something like that. It’s hardly the most original story, but The Silent Age earns its plot stripes by doing a better-than-average job relating average Joe in his average job to you. The secret’s in the telling, as the song goes. Joe is genuinely affecting, and the environments and other characters blend perfectly with the theme and writing.
You direct Joe around with taps on the screen. A small circle appears where you tapped, showing clearly what region of space you’ve covered. Pixel-hunting precision is a thing of the past; with The Silent Age, close enough is good enough. And the environments are painted in a kind of minimalist aesthetic that favors bold lines and colors, further reducing the chance that you’ll get stuck because you can’t find the right item to solve a puzzle.
No missing tiny one-pixel-sized key items; everything’s big, bold, beautiful, and charming.
Piecing It Together
Puzzles, meanwhile, are a straightforward affair. In most cases, you need simply use a specific item on a particular object in the environment. Said item then disappears from your inventory, keeping clutter to a minimum. This elegant streamlining of the normally-tedious adventure-game puzzling is a welcome change of pace, but The Silent Age treads a little too far into casual territory.
Puzzles are easy. Too easy, other than a few exceptions — such as when you need to get rid of a hornet nest without going near it (because Joe is allergic). It’s great that they’re logical, but hopefully the second and third episodes will demand more complex logic than these variations on “if this then that”.
It’s an area ripe for exploitation, thanks to a very nifty time travel mechanic. Shortly after he gains his time travel device, Joe can hop between the present (1972) and future to toy with cause and effect and to move through inaccessible areas or to grab key items.
The future looks pretty bleak.
To Be Continued, Hopefully at Matching Quality
The latter couple of the five chapters included in Episode One hint that this will be put to more elaborate use deeper into the experience, but we’ll have to wait and see as Episode Two isn’t due for release until later this year (depending somewhat on a crowdfunding effort to expedite this “labor of love”).
It looks like it’ll be worth the wait either way, though, as more of the same in a continuation of the story would still result in an exceptional game. Don’t let The Silent Age sneak by unheard.