Remember when the adventure game was “dead”? Long gone were the days of LucasArts point n’ clicks and heavily story focused games that took plot and humor above action. That seems so long ago now since companies like TellTale have revived the genre and we’ve entered this new renaissance of adventures. The industry’s become lousy with ‘em! You could trip over the new adventure releases just on the Steam homepage. Hell, we’re almost to the point where I don’t need to mention all this in every adventure game review!
The Book of Unwritten Tales is the story of a young gnome who wants desperately to be a hero, an elf woman who’s already pretty heroic and a human thief who doesn’t really give two damns about anything but himself. Being an adventure game, the writing is key to the experience. Many times you’ll play a game that attempts humor and it just comes off as desperate cheesiness. References to bacon and stale memes will be piled on as an excuse for cleverness.
Unwritten actually pulls off the wry wit and self-awareness that’s become a major theme in adventure games since the days of Guybrush Threepwood swordfighting through insults. Throughout the adventure you’ll encounter a depressed Death who is out of work since he exists in an adventure game where no one dies, a committee of zombies dedicated to improving relations between the dead and undead and an online role playing game set in a fantasy world. Of course a “fantasy world” to these characters involves investment banking and spreadsheets. There are also seemingly hundreds of tiny references to classic adventure fiction like Indiana Jones, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings and The Secret of Monkey Island.
Gameplay-wise this game is mostly what you’d expect from a point n’ click adventure. The player will enter a screen, haphazardly combine the items in their inventory and rub the contents of their pockets against the walls until something happens. It’s definitely got that ‘find this thing then tape it to this thing and give it to this guy so he’ll open this thing,’ stuff going on and I enjoyed nearly every bit of it. In a field where most games tend to play similarly, Unwritten Tales does it as well as anyone.
Unwritten avoids most of what’s annoying about the adventure game trappings by adopting the best thing to be added to adventure games in the last decade, the space bar. Pressing space will reveal every object on the screen with which you can interact. This keeps you from just clicking your inventory against every square inch of the screen. Though sometimes the goal can still be less than obvious. There is no hint system like most other modern adventures, so I still found myself in a couple ‘WHERE DO I GO?’ moments.
For an adventure game, it moves at a brisk pace. I never found myself stuck at a puzzle for too long and when I was stuck it was my own fault when something was staring me in the face. That is, until the last quarter or so. I clocked the game in at around eleven to twelve hours and it certainly drags for the last four or so. As a rule of thumb I’ve always thought an adventure game shouldn’t last longer than eight hours. The best point n’ clicks are the ones you can complete in a sitting like Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion. Those are the ones I find myself revisiting again and again over the years.
Other than being a bit overlong, the gameplay just doesn’t evolve much over the course of the game. I know it’s an adventure title and they tend to all play the same, but it can get monotonous. Unwritten Tales does introduce the mechanic of a full party, which I haven’t seen in a point n’ click. At least not recently. At certain points in the game you’ll have up to three playable characters on screen at once. Each of these characters has different abilities that can solve different problems. The player can switch at will between the three and solve one big, layered puzzle.But then there are long stretches where you’re just one guy backtracking and doing the same thing you’ve been doing for the last three hours. With the glut of adventure titles I mentioned, innovation will be the most important factor in getting noticed. The novelty of being an adventure game is starting to wear thing and people will be drawn to the ones that do the genre tropes the best and introduce new things.
There's an inventory. It holds ya' stuff. Ya click on it and click on other things bada big bada boom, you got yourself an adventure game interface.
When playing a point n' click, you tend to stare at the same images for minutes, sometimes hours, on end. So every one of those images better be pretty damn pretty. The design of Unwritten evokes a lot of great fantasy fiction from LOTR all the way up to WoW. A very colorful palette paints the fantasy landscape with beautiful landscapes and memorable characters. Visually it manages to take a bunch of very familiar fantasy tropes and make them feel fresh. The great writing is pulled off even better with the top notch voice acting. Each character manages to have personality and deliver the dialogue believably. And King Art Games managed to do this without giving half their budget to some over-exposed celebrity voice actor. Take note, AAA game developers.
Overall - 4/5
There really isn’t that much to say about The Book of Unwritten Tales except that it’s a solid entry in the adventure game genre. The presentation is beautiful and it has some of the better writing I’ve seen in a modern adventure game. If it weren’t for the length and gameplay that grows a bit stale, I’d consider this to be a perfect example of a good adventure game. It’s still definitely worth the purchase. Check it out if you're a fan of adventure games but I don't see this grabbing someone who's not already really into point n' clicks.