The Novelist full review
Oh, The Novelist is a tricky one. It would be extremely hard to deem it a particularly well-realised game, but at the same it's a powerful experience.
A point and click adventure game of sorts (with stealth elements, more on which later), it concerns titular author Daniel Kaplan as he strives to complete his difficult second novel at the same time as helping his lonely wife and educationally-troubled young son. You play as an unseen, possibly supernatural presence who's able to affect Daniel's decisions. You do this by reading letters and diaries left conveniently around the house, listening in on the family's thoughts and exploring their memories of recent difficulties. It's up to you to then choose whose preferred course of action is the most important, which will most likely cause the other two's short-term goals to be dashed.
Sometimes, these dilemmas are too neat, and it's implausible that there'd have been no way to, say, allow wife Linda to attend a local art class in addition to taking son Tommy to visit Friends and/or giving Daniel more time to write. Indeed, your degree of sympathy may vary hugely depending on how familiar you are with creative pursuits, and the perils of interrupting them.
However, frequently the Novelist is extremely moving, as what seemed like a relatively minor compromise leads to an unhappy son, or Daniel forsaking his writing for a time despite the demands of his irate publisher results in a closer family. If you're a parent yourself, you'll find painful echoes of the self-sacrifices required when a child, rather than yourself, becomes your primary concern.
The Novelist admirably avoids melodrama, even if some conclusions could be said to be a little extreme, with a subdued, minimalist art style and soundtrack creating a sombre rather than hysterical mood. However, it's too lightweight in terms of play - all you really do is move from room to room in search of a handful of glowing objects to click upon, and at no point do you ever get to leave the stark three-bedroom house the game is set in. It's tedious to control, and with each new stage the sense of being a chore rises. Everything depends on how much you get out of the agony of decision and the chill of consequence.
There's an attempt to make The Novelist more conventionally 'gamey' by adding an optional stealth mechanic, whereby your unseen protagonist must stay out of sight of the family as you/it rifle through their possessions. It's flaky and adds nothing to proceedings though, to the point that you're better off playing 'story' mode so you're spared occasional irritations in between diary-reading.
The Novelist is a little difficult to truly recommend then, at least not to a mass audience, but at the same time it's impossible not to applaud it for treading where most games fear to, and for often being emotionally affecting with it. It has power for parents, and for partners too, but a little less Hollywood sensibility and a few changes of scenery would have done wonders for it.
The Novelist: Specs
- Available on PC and Mac. PC system requirements: Minimum: OS: Windows XP SP2 or higher Processor: 1.8 GHz Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: 256 MB VRAM video card Hard Drive: 800 MB available space Mac system requirements: OS: OS X Lion (10.7) or higher Processor: 1.8 GHz Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: 256 MB VRAM video card Hard Drive: 800 MB available space