Zerathulu’s View – The Silent Age

As fun as it was last week to review a game I had literally just played, it’s nonetheless time to continue with the mammoth task of reviewing my existing library. This week, no splashy graphics, no Kleenex boxes, just old-school point & click gameplay and a killer story. Get ready for The Silent Age.

 

Background

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Developed by Danish studio House on Fire and published by Meridian4, The Silent Age is a traditional 2-D point-and-click adventure set in the seventies. The story centres on Joe, a slightly down-on-his-luck, blue collar worker who cleans the offices of a faintly insidious government building. The first thing I noticed from its Steam description is that time travel is involved, and it plays a major role within the context of puzzle-solving. I remember reading that and clicking ‘Add to Cart’ without a second’s thought. Like most nerds I’m drawn to pretty much anything that features time travel, but this feels slightly different in that the time-travelling seems to be a core element of solving puzzles, rather than simply re-winding mistakes. Looking at you, Prince of Persia. So let’s fill up the hot tub, bust the Delorean out of storage, and see if we can avert the impending apocalypse.

 

First Impressions

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The game starts with a few stills depicting the life of our average Joe; mundane jobs that slowly morph into one another as the years shift by. The score is dramatic and captivating, and succeeds in inspiring an immediate sympathy for our protagonist. Catching up to the present, the player is then somewhat unceremoniously dumped into a typical office setting, and the true gameplay begins.

The artwork is of a simplistic, no-frills style. It won’t win any design awards, but of course it doesn’t need to, being a point-and-click and all. The first few minutes follow standard procedure for the genre: exploring each room in turn, filling up the inventory, and watching my character make wise-ass comments when I erroneously try to use object A with completely unrelated object B in true MacGyver style. I like how the cursor, normally a crosshair, turns into a circle when hovering over something interactable. After some puzzle solving, I make my way up to the stereotypical tool of a boss, who gets his employee’s name wrong but at least provides a little more exposition. A co-worker has moved on and I get to take on his responsibilities for no extra pay…seems fair. But I do get a shiny new keycard, opening up a whole new area.

A couple of things to note before getting into the real meat of the story. I found the walking speed for Joe painfully slow, especially as some of the rooms are quite lengthy. But an accidental double-click sent Joe sprinting to my cursor. Definitely worth remembering if you plan on playing. Something else not entirely obvious: the default audio setting is subtitle-only, no actual speech. A small speech bubble in the top-right corner (there is no options menu) rectifies this issue and turns on the speech during cutscenes. I recommend this, the voicing acting is pretty solid.

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The first ten minutes or so does a great job setting the scene, getting the player acquainted with the type of puzzles utilised and drawing one into the story. I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far, and I love the reactionary humour from Joe which often verges on fourth wall breaking. Then, in true Martin Lawrence/Bad Boys 2 style, the fecal matter got tangible.

 

Story

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead – Skip to Final Thoughts to avoid]

The game is nicely divided into ten easily digestible chapters. I’m pretty gripped by the end of the first. In the bowels of this clandestine government building (known as Archon), we come across a dying old man, who does what any old man would do in this instance. He thrusts a hand-held time machine at us shortly before we get arrested for apparent murder. After escaping from the custody of the embarrassingly unoriginal 70s cops by use of the time machine, we get our first taste of an eerie, and silent, future.

It’s…empty. No life. No people. No noise. Just ruined buildings, dessicated corpses…and silence. Similar to I Am Legend, nature has reclaimed man’s domain. Plant growth is everywhere, and inside the crumbling police precinct, a huge tree has asserted its right to grow straight up through the centre of the building. I start speculating on some possible causes for this apparent apocalypse. Nukes wouldn’t leave this much still standing. The corpses, though decayed to pretty much skeletons, are largely intact, suggesting that zombies (and variants thereof) probably aren’t the cause either. No robot overlords, so a viral outbreak is the working theory at this point.

The first seven chapters of the game have thus far ran quite smoothly. Wanting to find out more about the gut-shot old man from chapter one, we’ve tracked his body down to the hospital he was brought to after he’d died (in the present day). Once found, and his identity confirmed as a ‘Reginald Lambert’, we now use his medical records to find his address in the hope we can find more information. Chapter seven culminates in us finding Lambert, now a younger man with black hair instead of grey, holed up inside his remote safe-house. He then proceeds to give us a detailed account of the events which have led to his being there.

In an effort to counter the looming post-war Soviet threat, Archon became a contractor to the Department of Defense, developing exotic weapons. This resulted in the development of Lambert’s time machine. After discovering you can’t go back in time before the creation of time travel they went forward in an attempt to bring back advanced weaponry. Of course, they found only ruined cities and corpses, but they didn’t return empty-handed. They had somehow contracted a deadly virus (called it!) which they brought back with them, killing several technicians before they could contain it. On learning that the company now wanted to weaponize the virus for the government, Lambert drew the line and resigned in protest, living in isolation ever since. Armed with this information, Joe agrees to return to Archon a day earlier to destroy the supercomputer which controls the time machine, as well as the relevant data, thereby preventing the events that would eventually lead to the apocalypse.

I’m fully invested in this. Though there was slim information upto this point, the puzzle-solving more than made up for the slow story developments. With vigour renewed, I crack on.

As the game winds down, it’s revealed that Joe is the cause of the apocalypse. Forced to travel into the far future, he returns with the virus and breaks containment. Joints seizing and muscles on fire, Joe finally taps into his underused brain and freezes himself in a nearby cryo-tube, containing the threat. Waking up after years, completely cured of what we now call ‘bird flu’, he is reintegrated into society….only for the game to finish with a slide of stills nearly identical to the beginning, as Joe continues his humdrum pattern of menial jobs and a lonely existence.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Silent Age. The puzzle-solving is on point. The storytelling is also done well, through both character narration and still-image sequences. I feel very ambivalent about the ending however. The twist at the end, though done well, isn’t too hard to figure out a little while in advance. And hooray for Joe averting Doomsday and all, but to essentially go back to his previous sheltered existence, knowing he averted mankind’s destruction but having no-one to tell, is more than a little disheartening. And it makes one wonder; maybe the dystopic, barren future wasn’t the real ‘silent age’ after all…

 

Final Thoughts

This is a good, good game. Those that enjoy their point-and-click adventures will not be disappointed. The time-travelling puzzle-solving is a wonderful element of the game, and it’s easy to tell that the developers put a lot of time and effort into this aspect. And though some might feel a pinge of disappointment at the ending, it nonetheless leaves the player coming away with something to think about, something I hold in extremely high regard. It currently sits on Steam priced at £6.99, though with a linear plot and no choices it offers little in the way of replayability (unless 100% achievements is your thing), which may dissuade some cautious buyers. But the game has a charm of its own, and some stories are worth a little extra investment. The Silent Age is one of them.

 

Letter grade: A

 

Thanks for reading! As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments if you’ve played the game or plan on playing. Until next time,

 

Z

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2 thoughts on “Zerathulu’s View – The Silent Age

  1. I remember playing this a few years ago at Christmas… while my other-half was stuck in bed with the flu and I had to find a game to play on my own. Good times. 😉

    As simple as it is, I really got into the storyline and ended up finishing The Silent Age in one sitting. I liked the way the art-style suited the 70s setting; I think something may have been ‘lost’ if the developers had chosen to go for any more detail.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You raise a good point, I hadn’t considered how the art-style was reminiscent of the time period. But I agree; a more subtle and nuanced style probably wouldn’t have worked so well 🙂

    Like

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