Sat 5 Nov 2011
If there’s one thing the adventure games based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld have shown us, it is that they’re a great platform for humorous fantasy. So why haven’t there been more games like them? Yes, there’s Simon the Sorcerer, but that’s about it. But now there’s another hopeful on the scene, and it’s an ambitious project: The Book of Unwritten Tales. Can it deliver though?
On first glance, it does indeed look like we have a winner here in the comedy fantasy genre. The voice acting, music, and background art are all of a high standard. I did find the 3D character models a bit prone to being glitchy, but not to such an extent that it hampered my enjoyment of the game. And enjoyable it is, for all those aspects I’ve mentioned, but in a comedy fantasy game, there is one element that is probably more important than all the rest: writing.
Before I get into the script, which one might describe as the nitty-gritty of game writing, I want to compliment Jan Theysen on his world-building skills. These were especially apparent in the beginning of the game, and particularly in the exchanges between Wilbur Weathervane, a gnome who is one of the main characters, and his employer, a dwarven bartender. I really got a feeling of this being quite a big world, with plenty of events and places outside the scope of the game.
But as I was saying, this is a comedy fantasy game, and the humour is where the writing really shines. When a game is marketed as “funny”, I’m always a bit anxious to see if it really is. Well, in this case, it is, very much so. Most of the humorous lines just clicked with me, being a bit of a Discworld fan. There’s that typical self-aware humour, but it isn’t overdone by breaking the fourth wall too often (a temptation some game writers succumb to in order to score some cheap laughs).
I also enjoyed the references, ranging from Discworld and Lord of the Rings to Monkey Island and Star Wars. The only criticism I have in this regard is that perhaps a bit too many pages were taken out of Tolkien’s book, which means at times the game errs on the side of overindulgence while walking the fine line of parody. However, most of the time the references are very enjoyable, and recognizable to nerds/geeks, who are obviously the game’s main audience. I particularly laughed at the references to MMORPGs and trading card games, showing how ridiculous (albeit fun) our real-world pastimes can be when you analyze them.
So with the game’s good looks and sounds, and the well-executed story, is there really anything wrong with this game? Well, there’s a thing or two, and the first thing is pretty serious. It’s Ivo the female elf, another main character. Here the game makers have passed up a great opportunity to parody another fantasy archetype: the scantily-clad lady. Instead, Ivo herself is dressed in armour that leaves little to the imagination, and important organs like her liver and kidneys exposed. A female dragon who is encountered later in the game does make up for it a bit, with glimmers of gender role criticism poking through, but ultimately most of the female characters in the game are more stereotypical and less varied than the male ones. I didn’t expect anything groundbreaking in this respect, but just a bit more effort could have been made to expose ridiculous fantasy tropes.
You’re probably not playing this game for its morality lessons though, so let’s move on to another important aspect: puzzles. Generally, the puzzles are standard adventure game fare, but there are some creative twists. Puzzles that stood out to me were one where you had to plot a course on a map (pretty easy, but something different), and the series of puzzles at the end, which involve a clever use of time travel (which has been done before in adventure games, but not always so elaborately as here). Puzzles that involved switching between characters were sometimes a bit cumbersome, mainly because the switching itself takes a handful of seconds, which can get tiring. Being able to play as the Critter more than makes up for that though. The little fellow with his endearing, seemingly nonsensical language is perhaps my favourite character of the entire game, and so I’m very interested in the upcoming prequel, The Critter Chronicles.
Speaking of prequels, the game’s ending is rather open, bordering on disappointing. I like that there’s a possibility for a sequel, but on the other hand, hinting at one can be a bit dangerous in the “current marketplace realities”. Still, I’m very interested in seeing more of this world. For even though it’s not perfect, The Book of Unwritten Tales offers a solid adventure gaming experience that is sure to please fans of fantasy, comedy, and any mixture of the two.
Jan’s Score: 4 of 5 starks
You can purchase The Book of Unwritten Tales directly from the creators’ website – here.