The Novelist PC Game Review – Dan Kaplan has a problem. His new book is going nowhere, he’s drifting apart from his wife Linda and his lonely son Tommy is falling behind at school. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also just rented a haunted summer house in the middle of nowhere in a last-ditch attempt to get his family life back on track. But The Novelist isn’t a white-knuckle horror game; it’s a leisurely and affecting study of fraught family life where you play a friendly ghost intent on helping the Kaplans.
The Novelist, A bizarre-sounding game that turns out to be a moving exploration of family life
By possessing each family member, you can read their thoughts and take sneak peeks at their memories, letters, drawings and diary entries. From these you’ll learn what each character wants and then decide whether to help make those desires a reality. This may sound simple, but you can only satisfy one character per chapter. This means one of the family members is always going to be disappointed and upset, causing their relationship with Dan to deteriorate even further. However, as long as you find out what the Kaplans want, you can always make compromises with their hopes and dreams – and keep everyone happy to an extent. Finding that delicate, tentative balance in the Kaplans’ family life makes for an entrancing and engaging game. The choices you make aren’t anything out of the ordinary – Linda might just want a quiet night in with her husband, for example. But then you try to balance Linda’s needs with the equally important needs of Dan and Tommy – Tommy wanting to play a racing game with his dad or Dan wanting to shut himself away in his office for the night – and you quickly find yourself slipping into each characters’ shoes and thinking about what you’d do in their situation.
Your choices have consequences. If family life deteriorates, it’s not just the tone of the Kaplans’ letters and diary entries that take a turn for the worse. You can hear it in the short, curt grunts of a greeting between father and son and the cursory, tired exchange between husband and wife. If you let things get too far out of hand, the game can deal you a quandary of choices that are impossible to reconcile without one relationship totally breaking down. Concentrating too much on one character at the expense of others can also yield some truly unexpected insights into their respective personalities. We won’t spoil it too much, but suffice to say in one instance Tommy became so anxious about his parents’ fractured relationship, that his thoughts revealed he actually didn’t want his dad to help him build his toy car in the hope that it might instead give Dan the time to repair his relationship with Tommy’s mother. This took us completely by surprise, as up until that point we’d assumed that each character would still ultimately want their own way regardless of what was happening around them.
This emotional complexity lent the subsequent chapters real gravitas and a sense of authenticity that we’ve rarely seen in other story-based games. Sadly, alongside this gravitas, there are elements of superficiality, especially if you play the game in Stealth mode. In this mode, the Kaplans can see you and become spooked if they catch you creeping around their house, thus preventing you from finding out what they really want for the rest of the chapter. That said, their rigid movement patterns and the blind spots in certain rooms make it too easy to sneak up on them, leading to a repetitiveness over the course of the game’s nine chapters. It’s a small irritation, though, because The Novelist’s compelling story more than makes up for any repetitiveness. Despite the sedate pace, there’s a palpable tension whenever you enter the Kaplans’ lives and it only intensifies with every decision you make. The Novelist is a unique game and, as the story is never exactly the same twice, there’s loads of replay value too. It’s a must-buy.
The Novelist PC Game System Requirements
- Windows XP SP2 or later
- 1.8GHz processor or faster
- 4GB of memory
- 256MB graphics card
- 800MBhard-drive space (also available for Mac and Linux)