The last few years have seen the transformation of video games from more than merely just “games”, but rather interactive narratives that tinker with player’s emotions on a whole new scale. The Novelist is a new title from independent developer Kent Hudson, who has managed to construct a wonderfully-crafted game that certainly separates itself from the traditional gaming scene.
In similar vain to recent “interactive experiences” like Gone Home, The Novelist looks to go in the complete opposite direction of most games. Action is kept to a minimum at most, as narrative is the true driving force here. Author Dan Kaplan has decided to relocate himself and his family for the summer months to a quiet location on the water in order to help jolt his creative mind to write his best novel yet. Things do not go according to plan though, as Dan must ultimately decide between pushing onward with his finest work by distancing himself farther from his wife and young son or focusing less on his book and more on the ones he loves. Decisions, decisions. It is up to players to choose the fate of this troubled author stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Players take the role of an unnatural spirit that resides in the house alongside the Kaplan family. It is up to you to explore the inside of their summer home looking for clues and notes that can help piece together the dilemma Dan and his family are facing. Most of the game consists of you observing the family trying to draw a clearer picture of their strained relationship. Players will come across letters, journals, magazine cutouts, and other items throughout the house, which when all found, help clarify the situation and tell a greater story.
You are also able to read the thoughts of each of the three characters found present within the house. Each character has their own wants they would like to have fulfilled. After uncovering all there is to find and better understanding the thoughts of each character by entering their memories and exploring, you are then tasked with making a tough decision. Do you push the creative mind of Dan, the father, in order to help him write his next best-selling novel? Will you help young Tommy, who seems to be struggling in school due to lack of guidance from his parents? Or are you willing to assist Dan’s wife Linda in her hopes of jumpstarting her artistic ambitions? The decisions you make impact the already rocky road this struggling family finds themselves on.
The Novelist tells a rather intriguing and emotionally-driven narrative, but I had still had questions regarding the supernatural spirit that lurks around. Not much is truly known about this entity. Random notes and journal entries sprinkled throughout the house at the end of each chapter help to paint a more vivid description of the home’s previous occupants and the powerful “effect” the home can have on this who inhabit it, but I was still left wanting to know more after the game was finished.
The Novelist features two distinct ways to play. The first is Sneak, where the entity players control must stay hidden out of sight from the Kaplans by possessing light fixtures found around the house. The element of stealth in The Novelist does very little to further the overall experience, except maybe the length of time it may take you to complete the game. Stealth offers little in the way of a true challenge. If you do end up spooking any of the characters within the house, your ability to influence their decisions slightly lessens, but that is about it. The other is Story. Stealth is of no importance when playing in Story since players can roam the house freely, exploring every room in order to learn more about the Kaplan’s lives without running the risk of startling someone. I found Story to be the more enjoyable mode to play in, as I could take my time learning more about this family and their difficulties without having to rush out of sight whenever someone was nearby.
The game is broken up into 9 chapters. The Novelist is far from a lengthy adventure with the game only lasting a mere 2-4 hours depending on what game mode you decide to play through. What The Novelist lacks in time needed to complete, it makes up for it with a compelling and engaging affair that will have players pondering every course of action they take and constantly second-guessing themselves with each decision as every choice is difficult to make since you know someone will be hurt in the end.
The Novelist is likely to strike an emotional chord with many gamers. Every decision I made while playing The Novelist was based on me trying to do best for everyone, which I realized was nearly impossible to do. Similar to life, you can never truly please everyone when making tough choices and this title wants to pit players under similar circumstances. Kent Hudson should be credited for his willingness to create an emotional adventure that fully invests you into the lives of The Novelist’s characters. The Novelist is an incredible, yet short, ride that has me excited for what the future may hold for new interactive player-driven stories, as narratives seem to be a major focal point in gaming moving forward. The Novelist is another step in the right direction.