The Kaplans, a seemingly average family who've decided to spend a summer like any other, in a beautiful vacation home similar to that of any coastal holiday residence. Or not? Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear all have down-to-earth aspirations and wishes, but that is all that is normal in this summer home. For you become the sneaky little "Goldilocks" of this household with your stealth abilities to possess flickering lamps and pendant lights, making invisible bounds across the entire Kaplan abode honed over decades of haunting the inhabitants of this house. As the resident ghostly entity minus any ghoulish intent, your new arrivals, the Kaplans will be your brand new pet project. To them it's their lives; to you it's another day at the office helping those unknowingly in need of your insightful guidance. Not only do you gallivant from room to room while becoming some variation of a peeper, you own a penetrative ability which allows you to delve into the minds of family members and look into their recent memories.
Not as bleak as I'd worried it would turn out to be from other reviews, especially by the second month, it was an interesting look into the varying perspectives of individuals making up a family. Though it doesn't provide the depth that such a game could, it did succeed at igniting the interest I had lost for more inanimate genres where clicking objects and reading excerpts from newspaper clippings and diaries to progress a set storyline had become too routine to enjoy. This is especially a great change of pace for those who often spend time playing point and click adventure games and visual novels alike. The stealth aspect adds a light edge to the boredom and personally this vanquished the tedious norm, apparent in similar games, completely. I'd also expect this to be fun for do-gooders like myself who enjoy volunteering their own points of view and choices to others in an attempt to be an aide. Every choice and chapter requires a good deal of sacrifice and has sure consequences. Decisions are difficult and this adds most greatly to the overall suspense and amusement. Gameplay in Detail (v. mild spoilers)
Gameplay is simple enough though the tutorial offered will help accustom you. Across a period of three months, chapters will open up spanning within a single day where you will be greeted with shining letters and blinking objects on various surfaces (truly easy to spot) to click and read/look at so as to get a grasp on the recent affairs of the Kaplan gang. Something will always be of issue and this is reflected in the chapter titles, aptly typed at the beginning of each episode. As you check each clue that has opened up in a new chapter, keep an eye out for single objects which stand out as you will be asked to search for object words for each character later on (becomes a bit of a hidden object game if you don't keep an eye out).
As everyone goes about their lives you will drift from one hanging fixture to the next, making sure not to be spotted. Each family member has the ability to spot you if you are not possessing a light. Every time you are spotted there is a split second to dash to any visible, switched on light you can get to (trickier as you progress). Once you are spotted for longer than a millisecond, the tag suspicious
pops up next to the relevant character in the tab menu* and you cannot move to a light and must flee from them and hide till they can no longer see you. If you are spotted again by that same character repeatedly in that episode, they will be spooked
and there will be ramifications in relation to the choices you can make. Going through the house successfully in the shadows (or more so the light), you will notice moments during the day when each character will have their back turned so as you can creep up behind them cautiously and peek into their memories with that spectacular penetrative ability I formerly wrote of. Tommy is especially swift so after you peek into his memory it’ll help to be ready to pounce on a nearby lamp as soon as you exit it or he’ll see you. This is as thrilling as The Novelist
will ever really get but for a laid-back genre of its kind it is a welcome touch which most players will appreciate.
After this initial accumulative stage, you move on to check the thoughts of each character and receive an object word. With the clues found in a chapter you'll decide who you'd like the story to move in favour of and this is done by clicking the object in relation to this decision. At this point the day will be over and the Kaplans will go to bed.
*The tab menu is a helpful resource to keep you on track of where you are in the game even if you stop halfway and come back and I found that many features in this game focus on keeping the story and immersive qualities intact, their priority.
Night time for the Kaplans is the only time you can walk around without need to be stealthy though you can opt to start the game in story mode instead of stealth mode where stealth is not used (not advised as may end up boring). This felt like a subjectively delightful part of the game as the player is free to stretch and move around the house, reading a new set (two) of letters or journal entries from that of past residents which open up more story for yourself, the entity that has been here long before the Kaplans came and will stay for long after they are gone. It was unfortunate that this wasn't built up on though that would have lengthened the game too much. The house was more detailed than I'd initially expected as it is superficially bland but has strong attention to the minute details (as is important to the story). So it did become a slight compulsion for me to walk down to the kitchen each night and stand by the fridge, listening to the familiar whirring of the motor then stepping back to listen to the heavenly crashing of the waves right outside the door which I lamentably could not open. Simulation sickness tip
While playing I was happy to note that though I am usually hypersensitive, I experienced little nausea with The Novelist
. The lack thereof was mostly due to the fact I was hiding in the lights and moving through them which meant a lot of the whizzing about/motion was less dominant. Even at night I would gravitate through the lights at a prompt pace as opposed to sauntering up and down the stairs and around landings as that was invariably sluggish yet still induced ever so slight giddiness.
The idea of a visual novel or point and click adventure game with stealth
as the main game mechanic seemed intriguing. It was ironic that stealth could make such games more interactive as well. This was a game I'd waited to go on sale for a while and was intent on playing despite the indifferent reviews, then nabbed as soon as I saw it during the Humble Spring Sale. I expect it has several endings more than the one I stumbled upon but I was satisfied enough with mine in which I kept the choices rounded until the end and then went with Tommy which automatically found a compromise for Linda but didn't end badly at all for Dan (you'll see what this means if you play). It was gruelling to watch the Kaplans jump for joy only to be let down after the next chapter or repeatedly depressed from the choices you make for them and I was constantly trying to find a balance without knowing whether it’d hurt or help. The narrative in this game is well done and immersive but I didn’t enjoy the voice acting for Linda as although Linda seems sweet, I didn’t expect her to sound as young. I may play again in the future to have a go at some bad endings if there are any as I have the devious mind to make Dan a world famous author and live the crazy, disorderly life of the single divorced dad with young university freshers bowing down at his feet.