by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Wailing Heights is a town inhabited by ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other undead creatures. It sounds scary, but it’s actually a fairly friendly place, as long as you’re dead. Sadly for Frances Finklestein, former manager of rock band The Deadbeats, if you’re alive, you’re breaking one of Wailing Heights’ laws. This is an old-style point and click adventure game, with a body-swapping twist.
Arrested at the start of the game for having too much of a pulse, Finklestein must escape his (or her, you get to decide) incarceration and get back to the land of the living. Luckily, a possession wheel quickly comes into your... possession. This is a device which lets you swap between bodies, but in order for it to work you need to know the person’s name, know something they hate, and know something they like. These vital pieces of info are then worked into a song, which allows you to take over the mind of your target. While normal adventure games have you scavenging for items to combine to solve puzzles, Wailing Heights has you asking the right questions to find out the right information.
Back and forth
The challenge comes in possessing the right body to find out the correct information. For example, to reach the back room party of the Ruff Rider pub, you’ll need to be a werewolf. But to find out the secret password, you’ll have to be a ghost and use your special ability to eavesdrop on the password when no one knows you’re listening. This is the core loop of the game, changing between various characters and experimenting until you get what you need. It’s a fairly novel way of doing things, but also highlights one of the game’s main flaws.
In order to possess another character, you have to be within earshot of them. The game’s locations aren’t that far apart, but running back and forward only to find you don’t have the right character for the job is a tedious process. There were also instances where I had forgotten where I had left people, meaning even more time spent walking around instead of actually playing the game. Of course, having to physically be next to someone to body swap makes sense from a story perspective, but from a game perspective it’s too clunky.
Not only is Wailing Heights a melting pot of different creatures of the night, it’s also apparently inhabited by people from all corners of the British Isles. It’s not a very big town, but you’ll hear accents from Scotland, Ireland, North England, Southern England, and everywhere in between. Some of the voice acting is good, some of it’s not so good, and the same can be said of the writing. The humour is hit and miss, and often hinges on the delivery of the character. The large bulk of the actual narrative is told through a comic book style with a voiceover. This medium is also used to convey the backstory of each character you’ll possess throughout the course of the game.
Music on my mind
Music is a big part of the game, and you’ll be hearing a lot of it. Again, the different songs have varying quality, ranging from cringe-worthy raps up to catchy rock n roll tunes. The songs you need to possess other characters will play every time you do it, and the short snippets will become boring pretty quickly. Three main characters will be your bread and butter for a good chunk of the game, while others will become available towards the end. You have the aforementioned ghost, a lawyer with the handy ability to read people’s minds. There’s also the werewolf, who can turn into wolf form and track scents with his keen nose. There’s the vampire, who can turn into a bat and fly up to out of reach places. You’ll use their special abilities to find out new clues, but after a while I was just using them to move around quicker.
Wailing Heights is a game with a unique idea that quickly falls into the same old adventure game traps. It doesn’t take long to fall into the gameplay loop of simply selecting all the dialogue options until something works, and the constant backtracking isn’t fun. The character design, and the hand-drawn artwork in general is good, and the game stands up on its variety. There are better adventure games out there, but the music-focused nature of Wailing Heights and its British quirks might be enough to make it worth a look as an alternative.
Good style and has a unique gameplay hook
Lots of repetition, has the same issues as many other adventure games