By Tyler Lubben / October 9th, 2014
|Title||A Golden Wake
|Publisher||Wadjet Eye Games|
|Release Date||October 9, 2014|
|Age Rating||N/A – Presumed Mature|
For about eight years now, when I needed to scratch my point-and-click adventure itch, I would look to Wadjet Eye Games before anywhere else. Ever since first playing The Shivah, and then being introduced to the utterly fantastic Blackwell games, the company has, in my mind, become synonymous with memorable characters and engaging stories. I was recently given the opportunity to play through A Golden Wake, a game that, while not developed by Wadjet Eye themselves, I still had high hopes for, having been published by the company. Rather than following the paranormal or sci-fi themes of other games published by the company, A Golden Wake is a 1920s period drama with a more down-to-earth narrative. Even so, the question now is whether or not this new title can capture the same magic as others represented by the publisher.
A Golden Wake tells the story of salesman Alfred Banks – or “Alfie,” as his friends (read: customers) call him – as he tries to make it big in the real estate market. His target: Coral Gables, a planned community in Miami, Florida during the land boom of the 1920s. As this game is (loosely) based on actual events, many of the characters you meet were real people, including the mastermind behind the Coral Gables project, George Merrick, salesman Edward “Doc” Dammers and journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. However, while Alfie is a hard worker, he is also highly ambitious and won’t think twice about changing career paths if he feels his skills are not appreciated.
A Golden Wake’s core gameplay is something we’ve been seeing for decades now; basic point-and-click mechanics that allow Alfie to inspect and interact with various characters, environments and objects. Alfie will often come across problems that will impede his progress. An early example of this crops up when Alfie must hire performers for an air show. On top of finding people to assist with the show, he must also help with repairs for the airplane. To do this, Alfie must acquire a sign from Doc Dammers’s cart, but, before he’ll give it up, Alfie first has to help him with a sales presentation. Before he can do that, however, Alfie has to find and repair Doc’s toy street car which is integral to the presentation. So, as you can see, the long and convoluted puzzle solving mechanics of old are still alive and well in A Golden Wake. That said, it wasn’t very often that I felt particularly challenged while trying to figure out the solutions. If you like real mind benders in your adventure games, you aren’t likely to find many here.
Aside from the standard point-and-click mechanics, however, there are a few special minigames which players will take part in throughout Alfie’s adventure. A few one-off games come out in the form of matching people’s personalities to the house that best suits each of them. Additionally, players will find an entertaining I Spy-inspired game where you look for structural problems in a person’s home. More than anything else, though, players will be exploring the Persuasion mechanic. Here, players will be given a variety of options in small conversation trees to try to win over a character’s trust, or convince them to do something. Alfie also has a special “Seller Intuition,” in which he will observe a person’s clothing, personal effects and demeanor to get a read on their personality. This knowledge will then help him figure out the best way to address them. For example, someone who cares more about morals will be much harder to convince if you try to speak to their greed or narcissism. These can be tricky, but it’s easy enough to save your game and reload the file until you find the right combination of responses.
Honestly, I had a lot of reservations early on, thinking that there was no way that A Golden Wake’s conventional story and characters could emulate the same excitement as other games published by Wadjet Eye Games. Unfortunately, that generally turned out to be true. However, the somewhat boring business-centric themes early in the story gave way to a much more interesting plot involving the mob during the second act. The interesting part of the Persuasion mechanic, at that point, is seeing how Alfie’s skills as a salesman help him in his shadier career path later in the game; where, rather than trying to talk a person into making a purchase, he is threatening and intimidating people into giving him information or money. It’s an interesting direction for the game to take, and one that didn’t seem immediately apparent from the initial descriptions that I read about it.
While A Golden Wake’s gameplay mechanics were varied and interesting, the presentation, both in its art direction and sound design, is a bit of a mixed bag. For all the things that were done right, it seems as though there was always something just a little off to keep it from being a complete package. For instance, the environments that Alfie visits all look fantastic. They’re well detailed, colorful and bustling with life, creating the illusion that you really are walking down a Miami street. Natural landscapes look fantastic, as well. I particularly enjoyed looking at the water effects as Alfie explored the Florida Everglades. The character sprites, too, while not the most detailed you’ll find in the adventure genre, are still nicely animated.
However, I was far less impressed with the character portraits that appeared during conversations. Compared to the great-looking environments, it was jarring to see static, lifeless images for the character close-ups. It’s obvious that many of the characters were taken from photos of the real-life people on whom they were based. Strangely, I felt that trying to recreate these images in sprite form limited them. Looking at this splash image for the game, you can see a distinct difference between the original artwork for Alfie and Marjory Stoneman Douglas and those taken from photos – Doc Dammers and George Merrick in the back. I can’t help but feel that A Golden Wake would have looked a lot better overall had they drawn all the characters in that slightly more cartoony style, rather than trying to make them look more realistic. Instead, we’re left with somewhat ugly pictures that look like they were simple copies, likely because they basically were.
I was both impressed and disappointed with the sound, as well. Overall, I found the music quite enjoyable. Things start off bleak on the snowy New York City streets, but pick up quickly once Alfie reaches Florida, and a much more upbeat, jazzy sound takes over. Later on, as Alfie begins getting mixed up with the mob, the music follows suit. It begins taking on a darker, more solemn tone as his dreams are warped into something he didn’t originally anticipate them becoming.
Alternatively, I was mostly unimpressed with the game’s voice acting. While I thought that Alfie, the mobsters you meet (you just can’t beat a good tough Italian accent) and Doc Dammers – voiced by Abe Goldfarb, who played Joey Malone in the Blackwell series – all gave admirable performances, almost everyone else left much to be desired. One voice actor might have problems emoting their lines properly. Another would be trying poorly to fake an accent. Yet another’s voice simply might not match the character they were playing. There was plenty to pull you out of the game’s immersion during your many conversations.
While A Golden Wake’s story takes place from 1921 to 1935, it’ll only take players about six hours to complete. In that time, players will meet some interesting characters, visit some great-looking locales and solve some tricky, but, ultimately, unchallenging puzzles. I can’t help but feel that, for a story that takes place over such a significant chunk of time, it doesn’t seem as though very much happened. I don’t feel as though we were given nearly enough time with these characters to truly care about them, so, when Alfie talks about hating this person or wanting to save that one, I found it very difficult feel the same. Even so, it was an intriguing time capsule for one of the more obscure events in American history, though $15 may be a bit of a tall order, especially for a game with as little replay value as this. Even though the accounts may have been overdramatized, it was still an interesting ride, if nothing else.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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