by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Deal With The Devil
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game about storytelling. How we share the stories we experience with others, what they mean to us, and how those same stories are changed with time. Narrative focused games such as this live or die on the quality of their writing, and for the most part, it’s Where the Water Tastes Like Wine succeeds. If only it managed to make the game as engaging and as well-paced as many of its tales.
You play as a poor soul who struck a deal with the devil himself, cursed to wander America in the midst of the Depression in order to gather the stories of its denizens. You’ll wander across the map of the country, encountering new people, events, and occasionally sitting down by a campfire and listening to one of the game’s major characters spin a yarn. Digging deep into American folklore, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is unafraid to paint a hellish historical picture that confronts American ideals and myths.
A Long Journey
Much of your time will be spent walking from state to state, region to region, encountering small interactive scenes that serve to flesh out the world you’re exploring. Meeting farmers in small communities, encountering talking animals out in the woods, and confronting issues that plague the larger cities, all take a minute or two to complete. Occasionally, you’ll have to search for money to take the train, or avoid life threatening situations that worsen your health, creating small survival mechanics that pad out your journey.
But the focus of the game lies in the stories you listen to and share. Roughly a dozen or so characters can be met at campfires, eager to share with you the stories they experienced in exchange for the ones you previously heard. These focus on such wildly diverse topics as the Reconstruction, Jim Crow era, World War One and the Summer of Love, with inspirations ranging from Mark Twain to John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac. The sheer variety of stories here is impressive, and most are told superbly. You can even influence some of the outcomes of stories depending on the choices you make in the occasional interactive sequence.
Beautiful But Dragging
Taken as a whole, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game that appeals to me on so many different levels. The art style is striking to look at, with bold black strokes creating a continual sense of unease and despair. I fell in love with the soundtrack, which is fantastic to listen to on its own. The voice acting and narration is uniformly great, and I can’t recall any moments where it felt flat. And the quality of the writing, whether in the short stories or the taller tales, held up throughout my time with the game.
But these are all dragged down by the game’s pacing. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is not fast paced in the slightest, and reading blocks of text again and again grew tiresome in long stretches. At points, I was rushing through the smaller stories you find exploring the world, all in order to pursue the longer and more richly detailed stories that make up the bulk of the game. By the time I finished the game, I was wishing it was a few hours shorter.
It also didn’t help that visual bugs began to seep their way into the experience with increasing frequency. While the prairie fields and railroad tracks look great when lined up, jagged edges were a frequent occurrence while traversing the map. Other bugs, such as a teleportation bug that transported me in the opposite direction I was walking, did not help matters.
A Bittersweet Wine
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game that is difficult to recommend for those who prefer their games to unfold at a pace faster than plodding. While much of the game excels in drawing you in, the deliberately slow pace works against it more often than not. But for those who are looking for a truly interesting adventure game that, for better or worse, takes its time to share its stories, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine makes for a captivating experience.
Gorgeous aesthetic, well-written stories
Slow pacing drags the game on for far too long, visual bugs