I admit straight away that I was going into Adam Wolfe with a sense of optimism. When I saw the title on Steam I assumed it was a fun, self-aware joke, taking the mickey out of ridiculous character names like “Anastasia Steele” or “Jack Slate.” In retrospect that might've been a little optimistic of me, but to my defence I’ve been playing some good games recently and maybe, I just felt a little hopeful about the quality of writing in the industry. Sorry to say here and now that Adam Wolfe ain’t going on the nice list for next Christmas.
Bleagh. It always kills me to say that about an indie game, but there’s only so many times your attention can wander during an alleged “action sequence” before you realise that you really don’t care about what's going on. Say what you will about the many ways one can experience the beauty and nuance of art, but getting distracted by the dust on your windowsill is rarely a good sign.
But speaking of silly names, does anybody remember a 1993 Sierra adventure game called Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers? I wouldn't blame you if you don't, it was a middling-tier occult-themed murder mystery that was best served by the stellar cast and had very little else to prove itself with. Gabriel Knight ostensibly felt like somebody took John Constantine from the Hellblazer series and thought “hey, what would it be like if this character was less interesting, less charismatic and had a New Orleans accent instead of a Liverpudlian one?”
Adam Wolfe takes that train of thought and runs with even further with it, relocating their own Constantine clone to San Francisco and actually making him less substantial than Gabe was. An episodic point-and-click adventure game centred around a paranormal detective (who begins to look startlingly like a skinny Jack Black after a while); I found myself losing interest after the first half hour. By the end of episode one, I was beginning to fidget like there were bees in my britches. After ploughing through episode two, I’d had enough, knowing that my opinion wasn't going to change without the game offering up free lottery tickets.
Episode One of Adam Wolfe is available for £4.79 on Steam, with all four episodes available for £14.99.
Is it a little too millennial of me to say that the point-and-clicker isn't ageing very well? Time was you’d boot up Monkey Island and know in your heart of hearts that you were playing for the story, not for the exciting opportunity to rub everything in your inventory on everything that wasn’t in your inventory.
So I can’t say that Adam Wolfe has anything especially new to offer to the pointy-clickey genre. Snap from one location to the next, hoovering up loose items like you're collecting for the world’s worst charity shop; and then pressing them on anything that seems like it might be compatible, in the hope they get along well enough to spray progress everywhere and let you move on. The game wisely sidesteps the legacy of illogical puzzles offered up by its forebears, which was certainly a decision rooted in good common sense. But though rejecting the idea of unfair challenge is a nice one, the choice to offer no challenge at all feels less solid as a concept.
Because all of Adam Wolfe’s puzzles are so easy that they barely demand any sort of brainpower whatsoever, with some being solvable literally by clicking the mouse on the same part of the screen over and over until you win, or perhaps demanding that you open a draw with a screwdriver that is found in the same room, lying openly on the desk. Where’s the challenge here? Every time I had all the puzzle pieces before me, deducing the answer was less difficult than finding a slow-motion sequence in 300. The puzzles also don’t get very well with the story, with no genuine attempt to explain their existence beyond “it’s an adventure game, so shut up.”
For example, I understand that in Chapter One we find out that Murdered McStabbedup had hidden all his demon-summoning apparatus so as to prevent anybody else from using it, but why does he leave a National Treasure-style series of clues that could be solved by anybody and an understanding of join-the-dot puzzles? It's necessary that he does so to ensure that there’s gameplay at all, but it doesn't make any sense when presented next to the plot. I may have to throw around the words “ludo-narrative dissonance,” and nod smugly whilst all my critic friends slap me on the back.
Speaking of gameplay, there are also frequent mini-games, which range from the inoffensive to the irritating. I admire the developers’ ambition to create moments of excitement, I really do, but it’s nothing more than dramatic music and the illusion of danger overlapping more cereal box puzzles and quick time events. My least favourite was the dynamic battle with a sand spirit, which involved playing a matching game for about five minutes whilst watching a health bar deplete in direct correlation to my own engagement. It would be like fighting Gwyn, Lord of Cinder by doing word searches at him.
Which isn't to say that there aren't good ideas mixed amongst the chaff. One mechanic that’s introduced early on is the ability to see events in the past, and whilst it functions only as a contextual McGuffin to give us the information we wouldn’t know otherwise, I could certainly envision a solid investigation game that was all about seeing through time and trying to piece events together accordingly. It's just a shame that I have to envision it in the first place, seeing as it’s nowhere to be found here.
On the level of gameplay Adam Wolfe actually reminds me of one of those Japanese visual novels. The puzzles are too weak to really break up the narrative, so the plot kicks along at a fairly quick rate and it only ever feels like the gameplay is a delaying tactic, not a proper challenge or technical element that needed to be in there at all. But without that, what else is there?
Call this one a mixed bag. For starters, I like the UI design that puts everything we need front-and-centre, yet without making ever making the screen feel cluttered, but the problem is that the true measure of any good interface is for the player to barely be aware that they’re using it. So whilst it is well-designed, I can’t say it really elevates the playing experience.
I’ll also concede that the static environments and backgrounds look pretty good, artfully crafted by somebody who knew what they were doing when it came to atmospheric locales, but whenever we come to the tricky business of animation everything seems to spiral downwards. Characters move with slow, angular motions that evoke the image of some creaking puppet on strings, and it’s not uncommon for the faces to look just as wooden and artificial. Anybody wracked with the terror of impending death will usually just look mildly concerned, but kudos to them for staying calm in a crisis.
What? You mean it might just be a flaw in the art style? No, I know that’s not the case because the voice acting confirms it, as flat and mechanical as the hero’s faces are.
Yes, I know it’s rather churlish to get snobby about voice acting in a game where they didn’t even have the budget to make lips move in the first place, but it is genuinely distracting and started to drag me out of the few scenes I might’ve otherwise become invested in. You know that out-of-work actors are about two-a-penny, right? I know a few that’ll lick your shoes clean just to get an audition in the first place. Speaking of which, I should probably tell them that there is no audition, but I’ll probably wait until my Bruno Magli’s are properly tongue-buffed.
This was the make-or-break aspect of the game, the pivot on which everything was depending. With a good story backing it up, I could easily have pushed through the tedious puzzle design, as games like Firewatch proved that you can still be engaging without demanding that the player actually engage themselves, allowing you to phone-flirt with one hand and scratch yourself with the other.
Adam Wolfe is working along the same lines, but whilst Firewatch understood the nature of intrigue and knew how to build suspense and character development, what we get here feels like fan-fiction for the Supernatural show, with all the problems that imply. Our titular protagonist is a private detective who specialises in the mystical, working out of a grimy flat in the San Francisco streets. His sister has been missing for two years and Adam isn’t going to stand for that when it means there’s nobody for him to borrow money from, especially when the Scooby Doo gang keep stealing all his business. One statement from Adam that I found especially baffling was during the intro cinematic, where he makes the rather dubious claim that “every case I solve brings me closer to her.”
Really, Adam? Every case? You mean that finding Mrs. Witherby’s American bobtail is likely to bring up evidence surrounding your missing sibling? I suppose finding leads is unlikely to be a problem when Adam is certainly a Mary Sue character, completely perfect and infallible but consequently devoid of any likability or charisma. He comes across as a seventeen-year-old’s idea of cool, a trenchcoat-wearing, guitar-playing, revolver-wielding, wise-cracking, battle-scarred, monster-fighting, unflappable badass, yet one that still looks suspiciously like a programmer wearing a costume for Comic-Con. He even owns a large, uncaged raven named Hubris, which definitely felt like some sort of shark-jumping moment that the game needed to be called out on.
This fawning over the main character becomes more egregious when you realise that every character of importance clearly considers Adam to be the best thing since sliced whiskey, for no reason that is immediately apparent. It certainly doesn’t help that all the cops tend to bend like dry reeds when he calls them up, obeying his every whim at a moment’s notice. Hell, at one point early on Adam guns down a man possessed by evil fire spirits, and the police just take his word on what happened with no scepticism whatsoever. Is it a stretch to believe that a bloke rambling about demons and crawling around in the sewers with a large revolver might just be worth questioning, particularly when he’s standing over a body that he admits that he’s shot to death?
This might all work if the story was intentionally goofy and self-aware, but something is lost when Adam would clearly rather be evoking Daniel Craig than Roger Moore. Maybe if it leaned a little more towards the ridiculous and allowed itself to revel in its own absurd premise and clichés, then there’d be something more fun to be found here as a whole, but without that acknowledgement, it becomes harder and harder to excuse some very silly ideas and cringeworthy dialogues.
So the game is at its strongest when it comes to the actual mystery element, managing to rustle up a few moments that did almost hook me in, but never quite enough to actually hold my attention. The second episode is certainly better than the first, with stronger puzzles, more intriguing ideas and a greater sense of understanding about what it wants to be – but better doesn’t mean good. And it certainly doesn’t mean a recommendation from yours truly.
Urgh… Call this one a valiant attempt, but frankly, Adam Wolfe doesn’t do it for me. There’s certainly promise on a show, but the gameplay just feels like a means of showcasing how cool the main character is, and he’s not even that cool anyway. Adam’s personal struggle to find his sister comes across as pretty weightless when the audience never even gets to meet her, and by the time I’d beaten the second episode I just didn’t care anymore whether the silly cow was alive and sunning it up in Acapulco, or being enjoyed by Satan himself as a light appetizer.
Here’s my question – who is this game for, exactly? All the murder and demonic possession would imply they’re aiming at the teenage market and up, but the puzzles and gameplay wouldn’t bamboozle anybody beyond third grade. You’d think a game like this would try to emulate the mechanics of Condemned 2, where you’d actually get to study those who were killed in bum fights and work out the circumstances of their death – you know, like an actual investigator – but Adam seems content to piece the actual mystery together for us whilst we just get to open a series of unconventional locking mechanisms.
Depleted of all patience and desperate to try something more interesting, I stopped playing at the midway point. I knew this was the case because when Adam asked somebody about his sister and the bloke replied “settle down, it's a long story,” I gave an audible moan of frustration and turned it off there and then. Perhaps those of you who push through to the end might find out there's some big finale that would put Bioshock to shame, but I wouldn’t watch a trilogy of films for the hope that there’s some good music over the end credits. In short, can’t recommend. Stick with the LucasArts roster if you need this kind of thing done well.
|+ Decent background art||– Adam himself is devoid of personality or charm|
|+ Some understanding of the mystery genre||– Puzzles are not engaging|
|– Voice acting and animation lets the side down|
|– Whole game is disappointingly easy|