This post has spoilers. Both in text and images. Do not read beyond the summary if you do not want anything spoiled.
Plus some pictures. Because I compensate for my poor wording and though process by distracting potential readers with images. This is why I use a CDN, so they load as fast as possible!
This post was originally titles “Lets put a spotlight on smaller games”, but I couldn’t shut up about Pentiment. So now its a dedicated post.
Wikipedia has a blurb on this, but I want to specifically call out that without XBox Game Pass, this game would not have been possible. Josh Sawyer had pitched this idea back when Obsidian Entertainment were Black Isle Studios. I’ve been subscribed to Game Pass for the last year, and I cannot say enough good things about it. So as you can see, I’m pretty much an Angel Investor and I was confounded as to why my name was not in the credits.
Pentiment had a brief trailer shown during the Bethesda Game Showcase, and my reptilian brain immediately recognized it as something I would enjoy. I knew it at such a deep and fundamental level it hurt. I avoided all other information about it from then. I had an inkling this would have been my surprising game of the year, similar to how I felt about Disco Elysium.
Pentiment, which I later discovered means “The presence or emergence of earlier images, forms or strokes that have been changed and painted over”, is a game about solving a mystery over the lifetime of the painter Andreas Maler. Game play, this is a very sparse experience and I think that’s what makes it such an exceptional experience. The artwork is lush and beautiful, done in medieval manuscript style. There is no spoken dialog, and the text boxes are animated in such a way that it matches the persons profession.
Let’s put aside that I am a self professed Adventure Gaming Nerd, with my formative years consisting of a steady diet of “borrowed” Sierra Adventure Games from my small SMALL group of friends growing up, Pentiment is an excellent text adventure mystery.
For me, the game started off a little slow, and I felt like I was taking a religious studies course. I mean that with the highest compliments, the designers really took a lot of pride in creating an authentic experience. Its little touches too. For example, you’ll be invited to eat with families on a regular basis. This was a big deal, and you also tend to see the differences in food and diet based on how rich or poor the family was. Its also during a time when Christianity and Paganism had to find ways to reconcile (or not).
To be honest, the first night I played it I started to fall asleep. It was post-workout, and it was so calming and the text was dry and heavy. I had no idea what it was about, I was just happy to click around and read text dialog again. When you walk into that first murder scene, I popped right up and was completely engaged from then on.
The central plot of the game is a series of murders through the life of Andreas and the small village of Tassing. You investigate these murders (unofficially) and you rarely make friends during this process. It really doesn’t matter who you pin as the murderer, because SPOILER: It doesn’t matter. You can’t solve them the right way, and the game retrofits whoever you pin as the murderer, as the murderer. Wild, I know. Its is not like your traditional point and click where there are hard failure conditions. As far as I know, there are no failure points.
What Obsidian Entertainment has done here, with such a small team, has been to craft one of my best gaming experiences I’ve had. My personal wish, is that they would focus on things like this, opposed to their larger budget games like The Outer Worlds.
A subtle soundtrack can be often unnoticed. Aside from a few tracks, I didn’t recall more than half a dozen pieces. It wasn’t until I searched for the entire soundtrack and found it enrapturing.
Here are a few that I enjoyed:
I listen to this while working sometimes, just like I do with the Disco Elysium soundtrack.
Let us first appreciate that we can pet animals. This is what I do when I walk around Portland.
I appreciated the depiction of local customs and celebrations like Perchtenlaufen
I’m Serious About Spoilers Here
Lets talk about this frame specifically (and again, if you’re still here, you have ignored my spoiler warning)
The game has moments where Andreas is being introspective. He’s having a conversation with himself and trying to come to terms with his past.
His life didn’t work out the way he had expected. From his arranged marriage, to his successful but ultimately unfulfilling career. He never kept in touch with his friends from Tassing, and by the time he returns his old friend and mentor Piero has passed on.
Andreas’ son died from the plague and it destroyed his marriage, quietly, through shared guilt and neglect. While navigating this maze, Andreas tries to come to terms with his wife Sabrine, and his now deceased son August. He has what I assume are imaginary conversations with his wife and son, and his son never responds to his questions or guilty admissions. He just wanted to tell his son he loved him, and that he was sorry.
Towards the end, Andreas seems to have forgiven himself, and that is when little August says “I love you, daddy.”
I was openly weeping. I have a letter I keep in my wallet. Its from my Son, and its one of the few written things he has ever given me. It says some things, but most importantly that he loves me. I’ll always cherish that.
I’ve never lost a child to the plague, but yet I still identified with this imaginary human experience.
I Don’t Know How To Wrap Up
The amount of research and inspiration that went into this game was really impressive
I’m looking forward to more things like this.
I also watched The Name of the Rose, a 1986 film with wife beater Sean Connery and New York born Christian Slater, so this period piece was a great fit.
Snark aside (and I do like Christian Slater, especially for the hit movie Gleaming the Cube), this is a really good movie. I can see why I probably skipped it on HBO during those long summer vacations, but now I really ate it up. Watching this after playing Pentiment, I can see where lot of the inspiration came from.