Places and people all have a nature about them. Hostile, positive, shaky, all of these things can be found worldwide. However, the word that prefixes “nature” when mysteries are concerned is “unassuming”, and that then is prefixed further by “seemingly”.
Slender Threads: Prologue dropped on Steam only a few days ago, and I managed to catch it in my interactive recommender (first time it’s honestly worked at finding a game I’d actually play), and the premise of an “uninteresting salesman” in a “seemingly unassuming” town conjures Lovecraftian vibes, and it instantly took me back to my first time reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
Book salesman Harvey Green rocks up in the scenic hillside town of Villa Ventana, in an attempt to make some money and maybe gain some inspiration for his own writing efforts (I’m in this game and I don’t like it). When recommended to visit one of the town’s many eccentric locals, he overhears a radio drama, in which he was a character involved in some way with murder. Will the mystery of this “seemingly unassuming” salesman be solved?
This is probably one of the best calls to arms in a game I’ve experienced in a long while. So very often in these styles of mystery games you play a detective archetype (private eye, journalist, cop, amateur, etc.) and you delve into one simple case and expose a huge one. This, instead, is where the mystery is a proactive agent in the story, instead of an underlying one. The mystery is happening to Harvey and it’s your job to guide him through it. Using the radio is a great way to convey this, especially with a pre-TV time period.
The art style is incredible. The backgrounds have a weird “paper cutout” feel to them, like the world is origami. The 2.5D environments are simple to navigate and have a lot of character in them, as you can tell the style of each “seemingly unassuming” storefront and building very quickly, even without looking at the category it falls into. The character designs are quirky, and do match the same visual style as the backgrounds. Think “Tim Burton made South Park” and you can get a slight idea. Harvey is visually uninteresting, save for his lack of pupils, but that’s the point of his character. Everything about his design is so bland and forgettable that it has the opposite effect; he actually becomes noticeable, especially when contrasted to the rest of the kooky residents of Villa Ventana.
The writing is also very good, coupled with some pretty decent voice acting, it makes the dialogue less of a chore and more like enjoyable interactions between two characters, even if some harmless stereotypes are leaned into a little. A personal favourite is the estate agent, who is over-the-top in his delivery and pitch, there was definitely more scenery in his mouth than around him.
Though there was only one direct puzzle in the game (outside of standard fetch quests in point and clicks), it was a good one. A Tetris-style conundrum featuring a crossword on a wall. The answer did have an interesting connotation, but I’m not going to spoil it here.
The only real con here is that it’s a prologue. While they are customary to mystery games, and Slender Threads is no exception, and definitely better than most, it is still only a taster. I have been burned by games not living up to their prologues being awesome (I’m still mad about Backbone).
It looks very promising, and I will definitely be picking it up when we get a full release, so expect an LTA about it when it does come out. The release date is yet to be announced, but I really wanted to talk about this quirky game. It’s worth it just peeking into the world of Villa Ventana if nothing else.
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