The Book of Unwritten Tales Review
Game: The Book Of Unwritten Tales
Developer: King Art Games
Publisher: Lace Mamba Global
Available on: Windows PC Only
Those of you who have been following the development of The Book of Unwritten Tales will have known about the huge delays the game has suffered in being translated for the UK and US markets. Two years on from its original German release, and the game is finally going to see the light in English-speaking markets. The game has gathered quite a reputation, after it gained huge critical success in Europe, and, based upon the preview code we saw last month, we began to get excited too. So how does the game finally shape up? Was it worth the wait? And how has the humour of the title survived the localisation process?
STORY: Without repeating too much of what was said in our preview, the game begins with Mortimer MacGuffin, a prominent archaeologist, discovering a secret that could turn the tide of a long-raging war in the favour of whomever knows about it. But before he can report this news to the leaders of the alliance, he is kidnapped by the son of the Evil Arch-Witch Mortroga and taken away. With the help of an Elven Princess, Ivo, he manages to pass on a ring of power to unwitting Gnome Wilbur Weathervane, whom he tasks with relaying his important news to the Arch-Mage of the Alliance. And, with that, so kicks off a very Lord of the Rings-esque adventure to help prevent the forces of Evil from dominating the land. Players will gain control of four heroes throughout the game, both Ivo and Wilbur, as well as Nate and Critter, a Buccaneer and his unusual pet sidekick. All four must work together to make sure the mission is a success.
Whilst the basic premise is very run if the mill for a fantasy tale, that is part of the beauty of the game. At every step there is a reference, parody or homage to a well-known movie or book. Some are obvious, such as the ring-bearing gnome who must go on a huge adventure, whereas others are more well-hidden. In the course of the game, you will meet many interesting characters, such as a very Discworld-esque Grim Reaper, a charlatan fortune-teller and The King of Thieves, who is in fact a masked and sword-bearing Latino sewer rat – literally. Some of these are recognisably influenced by other popular media, but this is all handled in an affectionate way and the game never really descends into making fun of these elements.
Some of the characters you meet are lifted almost directly from other fantasy stories, whilst some are references to modern pop culture. The RPG genre is poked at when you must distract two townspeople from the latest multiplayer role-playing game, where people can escape their dreary life and become accountants or lawyers. The whole game is obviously a bit more simple than modern MMORPGs, being a mechanical contraption run by a monkey, which could be straight from the mind of Terry Pratchett. Another puzzle involves Wilbur taking on a town guard at a game of cards, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Magic the Gathering, or such other card games. Even adventure gaming itself doesn’t escape the spotlight. For instance, famously adventure games don’t allow characters to die (or not since the early days of the genre anyway), so in the game Death comments on how he feels useless and he has nothing to do. It is these clever little touches and knowing comments that give the game its charm, and that will endear gamers to its subtle sense of humour.
GRAPHICS: Graphically the game is very attractive. In the tradition of the very best Adventure Games, the title has shied away from a fully-rendered 3D environments. Locations you visit are beautifully hand-painted and are chock-full of intricate details and little in-jokes. Character models are then fully modelled in 3D and placed within the locations, but this works very well and the animated characters don’t stand out stark against the environments, it all blends together seamlessly. The actual character animation is smooth and detailed also, although it was noticed on occasion that some animations would cut in and out, with some action cycles not completing properly. In other instances, when an item was used, it may appear as invisible in the hands of the character. These are minor niggles however, and only occur from time to time, not enough to detract from the overall high quality of the art on display.
SOUND: It must be said that the voice acting throughout the title is top-notch. From the major characters, down to the supporting players, each voice is perfectly cast and entertaining. They all help brilliantly to bring the cast to life and to create a likeable cast of heroes and some horrible villains. Some voices are obviously modelled on specific actors or characters from other films, for example, with one voice-over sounding strikingly like Patrick Stewart. From the Welsh lilt of Wilbur’s voice, down to the Spanish, Antonio Banderas sounding King of Thieves, the accents and variety in voice-acting is superb. The cast that has been assembled fleshes out each individual superbly, and this is a welcome surprise, as many other adventure games that have been translated into English from European languages in the past have suffered from poor voice work.
This is aided by the fact that the translation effort has also been great, with all of the jokes and references still making perfect sense and being very witty, despite the localisation and language transition. Nothing is lost in translation and none of the lines fall flat, the sense of humour in the game is very clever and obviously somewhat universal. In terms of sound effects and music, these two are very well handled. Little effects such as howling wind and crowing birds in the background help create a deep environment for the game to take place in, whilst a mixture of newly-composed pieces of music, coupled with such timeless classical anthems like In the Hall of the Mountain King, really help set the scene and to create the mood needed in each scene, whether it be dramatic, scary or light-hearted.
GAMEPLAY: Whilst the game plays very much like any run-of-the-mill adventure game, the aspect of the title that makes it stand out somewhat from the competition is the fact that you get to control the four heroes in the game, and at some points all of them are under your control at once. This means that the players must think even more about the situation they are in and about whose skills would be best suited to each obstacle. In the first two chapters, you alternate between two of the heroes, controlling each one by themselves as they begin their quests, but as their paths converge later in the story, the characters band together and one-by-one, the player gains more people at their disposal. This has been done before in adventuring titles, and does help to add another layer of difficulty and complexity to puzzles, and so is a welcome addition to this game.
Unlike most recent adventure game releases, this title doesn’t offer anything in the way of a hint system or walkthrough. This is quite a boon, as with the level of help a lot of games provide, adventure games have suffered somewhat over recent years by becoming too easy, or it has been seen as a casual gaming genre. By taking away the crutch of in-game hints or a built in guide, the title makes gamers work harder for each puzzle solution and stops them from taking the easy way out when they become stumped. Whilst this is good news to adventure game fans, it does somewhat limit the market for the game. Perhaps the option for a hint system that could be activated or not at the start of the game, dependant on your adventure gaming skills, would have been a better all-round solution, in order to please the largest number of gamers. There were no horribly difficult puzzles though, so perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue.
As mentioned before, the game features a basic point and click interface, and the controls are very quick and easy to pick up. There is a basic tutorial provided for the first set of puzzles, which the player can watch or skip at their whim, meaning even new players will learn the basics with ease. What became an issue somewhat though, was the fact that incorrect mouse clicks or puzzles solutions aren’t sign-posted. For instance, in another adventure game, when the player tries to use an incorrect item somewhere, the in-game character will invariably state “I can’t do that” or “that doesn’t work”. In The Book of Unwritten Tales, whilst this does occur in some situations, the vast majority of the time, the player won’t be told if something doesn’t work, it will simply yield no response. This leads to the gamers not knowing if they have simply clicked in the wrong place, or the game didn’t detect their input. Some sort of response to each input at least would assure the player knows their actions have been recognised, and this is such a standard feature of adventure games that it seems silly that it is missing.
LONGEVITY: Whilst adventure games offer little replay value to the everyday gamer with their linear style, there are no alternate paths or solutions in the game, and nothing new will unlock after a successful completion, this title is incredibly long. The first two chapters could be rushed through in around four hours, but once the action really kicks off in later chapters, you will find that the game really provides a lot of bang for your buck. The game is packed full of puzzles, people to converse with and areas to explore. The more items there are to examine and people to interrogate, the more you want to make sure you have covered everything, in order to hear all of the jokes and get more backstory or hints regarding puzzle solutions. If you don’t look into everything, you will miss a lot of content, even the seemingly insignificant items dotted around can provide quite a lot of laughs and things to uncover. Even for those who don’t look into all the little details, the game weighs in a well over twelve hours for the main story.
VERDICT: Whilst the game certainly won’t amaze users with its original story or unusual setting, the title walks the fine line between parody and homage, without ever falling into the trap of becoming exactly what it is paying tribute to. The game mechanics too aren’t unique in any way, and as I mentioned, some of the basics you may have come to expect from an adventure game aren’t even present here, but it is the charm and humour of the title that will reel players in. The free demo in itself offers a huge amount of gameplay, but in offering so much for players to try, it really gives the developers a chance to ensnare gamers and make sure that they want to come back for more in the full release.
What is most surprising is that, for an independently made game, translated from another language, the sense of humour is spot-on, the production values are very high, and the writing is immensely clever. This is undeniably one of the most entertaining original adventure games that has been released in quite some time, and it deserves to get the worldwide release that it has finally achieved, it is just a real shame that it has taken so long. It should also be noted that, due to the delay, a prequel to the title is almost finished too, but who knows how long that will take to see a English-language release? Hopefully nowhere near as long as for this game. The comedy-adventure genre made popular by such titles as Monkey Island and Discworld finally has a successor, in King Art Games, and long may they reign.