Spoiler Warning: This article contains major plot spoilers for Trüberbrook
Point-n-clicks are one of those genres that has found a home in the arms of small and indie developers. Whilst mainstream triple-A releases focus on increasing levels of action and frame-rate, the humble PnC offers gamers something at a more sedate pace which I almost completely ignored growing up only to uncover their charms when I was a little older; and there’s a lot for me to like about PnC’s give my gaming tastes. One of the reasons I enjoy classic survival horror is that feeling of exploring, unravelling and gradually unlocking an area which a good PnC encapsulates. I also enjoy a good story and that certain brand of gaming where you don’t need to have twitch reflexes to play.
It was with this thirst for a story and world to explore that I picked up Trüberbrook, a PnC adventure that drops the player in to the scuffed shoes of a Quantum Physicist, Hans Tannhauser. Arriving in the small remote German village of Trüberbrook in the 1960’s, under the unquestioned circumstance of having won a competition that he didn’t enter, Tannhauser is drawn in to the mysterious local activities of the Millennium Corporation and ends up saving our reality. The visuals, made up of hand crafted model shots, are probably the most immediate draw with its intricate diorama-like presentation and an almost claymation quality to the onscreen cast of quirky characters. Regular readers will know that ‘small town mysterious events‘ and ‘diorama-like‘ are two of my triggers to an almost instant purchase, so it seemed like I was on to a winning formula already.
Tannhauser himself is a fairly stereotypical intelligent bumbling man who gets swept along with the unfolding events. Even the normal townsfolk are bizarre in their behaviour and the whole game is delivered with a quirky off-the-wall humour that seems to be relatively common for PnC adventures. If this is your type of thing (and I find it quite charming personally) then there’s a good chunk of it here for you to enjoy. On to this background is projected the plot that has a fairly standard Sci-fi/Xfiles thing happening:
After seeing a mysterious glowing gentleman stealing his research notes, Tannhauser tracks him down to a facility deep in an abandoned mine with the help of a convenient anthropologist, Gretchen. They discover some kind of ‘space portal’ and the aforementioned mysterious gentleman, Taft, who turns out to be an alien trying to get home. Immediately Gretchen reveals that this is what shes been looking for and locks herself in the facility to use the portal herself. Tannhauser and Taft work together to build a device to help Taft return home using the portal and finally the confront Gretchen, defeat her and return Taft to where he belongs… oh and somewhere in the middle you end up in a sanitarium trying to prove you’re not an alien..
… so I guess I’ll just say what I’ve been skirting around so far; I just didn’t really enjoy Trüberbrook. That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects that I liked, the aforementioned visual style and quirk factor, but my final feelings were of disappointment. Time machine, inter-dimensional portal, anomaly of nature would have been my immediate guesses probably a few minutes in to playing the game which weren’t too far from the truth, with everything else pretty much played out as expected. Gretchen isn’t developed enough to present an interesting villain, instead there is some explanation involving her mother shoe-horned in at the end to justify her actions. The device that Tannhauser and Taft build is suggested to be a means to stabilise the portal, but in the end the player uses it to teleport around a room to solve a puzzle. What’s more, the final conflict is a result of there not being enough ‘energy’ for Gretchen and Taft to both use the portal yet they both end up going through along with Tannhauser (depending on your final game choice). In general, too many plot points seem to be either very quickly skipped over or suddenly pop-up without warning such as the closing poignant moments between Taft and Tannhauser, two characters who didn’t really share any meaningful exchanges until then.
In the past I’ve been willing to overlook a weak plot if the rest of the game holds up, but sadly it’s also unsatisfying as a PnC adventure from a gameplay point of view. Puzzles present little challenge as the player isn’t free to attempt their own solutions. Instead interacting with something shows only those held items that can be used making much of the game an exercise in walking around finding things and using them where possible without much thought about why. I also found many of the puzzles nonsensical (and I’m well versed in bizarre game puzzle solutions); why is there a coin in the shower head? Why would wearing a metal suit of armour protect against electrocution? and why would you throw a tin-opener at a statue to break it after saying that you didn’t want to damage the artwork if you examine without the tin opener? I’m totally ok with a bizarre or comedic puzzle solutions, but there needs to be a kind of internal consistency; in this case I’d be hard pressed to even hold up the placard of gaming-logic to defend it. Then there are the puzzles that just felt unfair; selecting ancient writings in order based on their era of emergence felt like asking too much without providing any ingame reference and there’s a point where you’re suddenly able to access a new area by walking off the side of one scene without any indication or reason that it’s now possible.
… and for the record, I did try and enjoy the charm that the game has to offer, but somewhere in the middle… around the point where Tannhauser has to navigate a winding stairway in to a basement that’s an effort on perseverance as he seems to keep getting ‘caught’ on the turns… I just kind of realised I wasn’t having much fun. With the end inevitably in sight I pushed on to the credits, but if the confrontation with Gretchen has turned out to be a mid-game break then I’m not sure I would have stuck around.
Earlier this year I sampled Syberia I and II on Switch and those also failed to really find their mark and scratch that PnC itch I’ve had recently, so does anyone out there have any recommendations for PnC’s on the Switch that I should check out?