I've been looking forward to this game for a while, as any game that forces the player to make difficult choices with some grounding in reality immediately piques my interest. Ever since getting married about a year ago, I've had to "grow up" and realize that my choices are no longer my own, and that I must think of the greater interest of my wife and family in general as we both make decisions together. Now as we get ready to give up our established jobs and prepare to move overseas for several years, where we hope to make new friends, raise any future children, and find new jobs, our choices become more and more crucial (and intimidating) than ever before. These feelings had me anticipating The Novelist even before I played a single minute.
Some have accused me of enjoying 2Deep4U games a bit too much; while it's true that mostly indie games topped my list of games I most enjoyed last year (Swapper, Gunpoint, Brothers, Guacamelee, Rogue Legacy, Stanley Parable), I've managed to maintain a cynical stubbornness against games that I can appreciate but otherwise just do not enjoy (Proteus, Papo & Yo, Dust). After completing The Novelist, I can unfortunately say that my verdict of the game lies squarely in the latter category.
The Novelist appoints you as a ghost in a house where you voyeuristically observe the life of the Kaplan family: Dan, Linda and their son Tommy. The house is littered with notes, letters and drawings (Gone Home-style) which you can read to discover the daily problem du jour. Thankfully, there is more human interaction than Gone Home, since you can also watch the family members live their lives and enter their memories to hear their thoughts. After finding enough clues and thoughts, each member has an "item" that you can possess to convey how they would want to end their day. If you find enough clues, you can also make a compromise possession with someone else, but at least one person will always have their daily wish unfulfilled.
From what I can tell after two playthroughs, the first choice will always carry the most weight. The compromise choice, if selected, seems to either mildly satisfy the family member or merely hold status quo. The member whose choice you ignore will fall into worse and worse shape. Each playthrough can offer days in random order, but the days themselves are the same and have no variety. I didn't like this as you never see any ramification of previous choices in future days, besides some thoughts here and there. Everything is eerily distilled into simple black and white scenarios and outcomes. I'll avoid any spoilers, but the daily, monthly, and eventual final decision results left a lot to be desired. Also, the final outcomes are incredibly disjointed, with certain distinct epilogues given for each character that hold absolutely no relationship to other members' decisions and epilogues.
Actually, I think that's what annoys me the most. For a game whose prime selling point is the idea of making hard choices and compromises for the greater good, the fact that your choices have no interrelation between members seems completely unrealistic and disappointing. If I, as a father, take time out of my day to affirm my wife's hobbies and spend more time with my son, how does it make sense that I treat them the same horrible way depending on one of my one (father) choices, versus when I completely ignore them and put my priorities above all else?
In a game that prides itself on difficult decisions, I can give one clear recommendation on choice:
Don't play The Novelist.
Posted: January 19th, 2014