by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
WELCOME TO MIAMI
In gaming, a specific genre rarely explores beyond a small handful of well-worn settings. In an FPS, you will mostly be shooting at either sci-fi Nazis or angry Russians. RPGs will put you up against an immense, evil empire, or a big dragon. It’s rare to find a game that dares to push those boundaries – to buck the trend and embrace the unusual. But it seems adventure game developers never received this memo or, if they did, it was lost in the unfathomable depths of an inventory puzzle.
A Golden Wake is a point & click adventure in which you play Alfie Banks, a real estate salesman in the early 20th century who heads to Miami to make his fortune. It really couldn’t happen in any other genre.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
From the moment the main menu saunters in with a slow jazz beat, it’s clear that this is a game about atmosphere. There is a sense of reverence about the setting which pervades the games visuals and audio. It brings to mind LA Noire which, though set a couple of decades later, shares the same feeling of immersion in a bygone era. It won’t be the last time I will draw a comparison between the two games, but Team Bondi’s love letter to the gumshoe thriller was beset by internal problems and questionable design choices. Has A Golden Wake managed to avoid the same pitfalls?
Fans of adventure games may well be familiar with Grundislav Games – best known for the Ben Jordan series. A Golden Wake is the first full-length, commercial release from the one-man studio and, as might be expected, the point & click gameplay here is a step above the freeware offerings, although nothing revolutionary. The unobtrusive in-game interface treads a familiar path, with no real surprises on offer; just one playable character, and no fancy tricks like ghostly companions or, heaven forbid, a verb coin. The advantage is that both newcomers and adventure addicts will feel right at home from the get-go, but players unimpressed by the setting will probably wish there was a little more meat on these bones.
By and large, the adventure gaming itself – the act of moving from place to place, solving puzzles, and progressing the plot – works well. There are a couple of instances of ‘point & click logic,’ where an obstacle exists that simply isn’t believable, but these are rare enough that they do little to detract from the overall quality. The primary concern for experienced gamers will be that the game is simply too easy – I breezed through most of the puzzles without too much hassle, and never got to feel that thrill of finally working out a tough head-scratcher. Fortunately, the puzzles are all well-integrated into the plot – and that plot, grounded in historical reality, is clearly where the bulk of the development effort was focused.
Needless to say, the creation of Coral Gables, FL is a very real piece of history, but it is commendable just how well A Golden Wake brings it to life. Many of the significant players of the time are represented in the game, with some of them taking key roles. These would be great characters in any work of fiction, but are made even more fascinating by the fact that they really existed. Most importantly, the developer’s passion for the era shines through the writing, and it’s contagious. After playing, I found myself researching some of the people and places just to find out a little more – I had caught the bug.
Excellent sense of time and place. Enjoyable story. Unusual setting.
Poorly executed minigames spoil the fun. Feels a little too short. VO is spotty.