Publisher/Developer: Orthogonal Games (Kent Hudson)
Genre: Action Narrative Platform Played: PC
Our lives are full of choices on a daily basis, from simple ones such as whether or not you should eat that last piece of dessert, to more difficult and life changing decisions like taking that job offer in another state. Conveying the difficulty of tough real world decisions in a video game is no easy feat and few games have been successful at making these choices hit the player emotionally. The Novelist is one of those games that tries to mirror the difficulty of life choices in an interactive form, and just like real life our choices have the opportunity to branch out an effect us in many ways we never expected.
The Novelist introduces us to the Kaplan family – Dan Kaplan is an aspiring writer who has hit hard times creatively, Linda Kaplan is a part time painter that wants to expand her horizons and take her work professionally, while Tommy Kaplan is their young son who is struggling to handle his work at school. The family has moved to a home in the woods for the summer to try and reinvigorate their creative minds and save their marriage that is beginning to slip, which is where the entirety of the games 9 chapters takes place. Players actually control a ghost-like entity that is attached to the home, as the player must find out each characters wants and needs and then act on them as they choose.
Finding out the desires of each character requires exploration, as you search for diary entries, letters and notes that explain the characters emotional state and their goals for that specific chapter. Exploration requires the player to use stealth mechanics to collect the information without being seen. Our ghost has the ability to inhabit light fixtures that have been switched on. It is a simple and responsive method that can be mastered to move around the home with ease. Avoiding detection is easy and I was only spotted once during two playthroughs of the game, The Novelist doesn’t try to provide a difficult gameplay experience as the difficulty rears its head in the choices you make.
Each chapter has the player collecting information, which can also be found by inhabiting the Kaplan family and accessing their memories, which requires our ghost to sneak up on the character from behind without being spotted. Most of the information gathered is accompanied by some strong voice acting, which helps you get attached to the family. However it seems Tommy is affected in a negative fashion, as the child displays most of his emotions in the form of a painting instead of words. Because of this we never truly get attached to his feelings and never hear from the character vocally. I found decisions were easier at the conclusion of each chapter because I couldn’t find myself attached to Tommy, as I did his parents.
At the conclusion of each chapter a decision must be made regarding who’s desire must be fulfilled, which can range from how money will be spent, how much time is dedicated to improving their careers and if their marriage will begin to repair. What you choose will have ongoing effects, as you will see characters react in different ways depending on what you choose in the previous chapter. Vastly different outcomes will alter the Kaplan family and their future. These choices are not black and white and they will effect some characters in a negative fashion. I continued finding myself attached to the family and seeing the reactions of your choices and the negativity some characters experience because of your decisions, is an extremely powerful method of making the weight of your choices apparent.
Decisions are made slightly easier if you are undetected and collect every piece of information, which allows you to make a Compromise. The Compromise allows one more character to have their desire slightly fulfilled, which incentivised me to find every piece of information to try and keep as many members of the Kaplan happy as I could. Your choices also affect how the home looks visually, choosing certain options will see those items spread around the house, which can range from a toy or even a newspaper clipping from an event you orchestrated. It gave the decisions an extra element as each of my two playthroughs saw the home decorated differently due to the choices I made.
Multiple playthroughs are required to see every decision The Novelist has available, with each playthrough ranging from 2-3 hours. Though most of the information you find will be identical in each playthrough, the main changes will be seen in the characters memories you experience and the summary showcased at the end of every 3 chapters. The conclusion of The Novelist can also be drastically different depending on your choices, which will certainly require 3 playthroughs to experience each defining result.
The Novelist does suffer from repetition as each chapter has the same formulaic tendencies – Gather information, access memories, make decision and then proceed. The only difference I found in the process of each chapter were a few light fixtures being switched off in the later chapters, which forced me to exit fixtures more often. Though the family’s narrative and the choices that need to made are definitely interesting, each chapter does suffer from the repetitive nature despite the small alterations.
The Novelist succeeds at making your tough choices matter, every decision you make will create positive and negative emotions on members of the Kaplan family. These decision are ones humans make multiple times in their lives, which makes every choice more meaningful. You are not choosing to save or kill an alien race, they are simple realistic decisions that can have repercussions on those involved
Though chapters become repetitive due to the formulaic process, reaching the end of each chapter offers some tough choices that will constantly make you question whether or not you choose the right thing.
The Novelist is a short experience, but I recommend multiple playthroughs to truly experience every decisions alternate route. You will be surprised how one simple decision, can alter someone’s life forever.
+ Difficult real-world dilemmas.
+ Consequences for your choices.
+ Various endings.
– Repetitive chapter structure.
– Tommy’s lack of character development.