The Beginner's Guide is an indie game that focuses more on the story aspect of gaming rather than the actual gaming aspect of gaming. Brought to you by Davey Wreden of Everything Unlimited Ltd., The Beginner's Guide is Wreden's first game after his hugely successful release of The Stanley Parable; another game that focused on interactive storytelling as its medium. The Beginner's Guide is a PC game that was released in October of 2015.
The Beginner's Guide is available for purchase on Steam for $9.99
The Beginner's Guide follows no real plot. Instead, a narrator (voiced by Davey Wreden himself) speaks to the player and explains what's going on in each particular scenario that the player might find themselves in. The narrator introduces himself as Davey Wreden and begins the game by convincing the player that this is a retelling of a true story that he experienced himself.
The story, as Wreden explains it, follows a young game developer named Coda, whom Wreden once met at a game convention in 2009. Convinced that Coda is one of the best developers he's ever met, Wreden quickly becomes a huge fan and friend, often asking Coda to send him the games that he's working on. The Beginner's Guide takes the player through Coda's work from the years 2008 through 2011. While revealing the various projects that Coda worked on, Wreden talks to the player about his relationship with Coda at the time of each game as well as Coda's frame of mind and how one can analyze Coda's emotional and mental state based on the games he was making.
Wreden takes the player on a journey through these four years of Coda's life, giving his own insight from his personal perspective as someone who was close to Coda during this time period. The nature of Coda's various games change over the course of these four years, revealing (according to Wreden) Coda's frame of mind as well as his personal struggles. As the game progresses, it becomes less and less clear how much of what is shown is actually a representation of Coda's emotional state and how much is a representation of Wreden's mental state.
Coda is, over time, revealed to be someone who seems to be struggling with some very serious mental health issues. His games become darker and more confusing; a window into his psyche that seems to be stuck open. Conversely, over this same period of time, Wreden's narration becomes more intense, his unhealthy obsession with Coda becoming more profound and obvious.
While playing The Beginner's Guide, it's difficult not to begin feeling bad for both Coda and Wreden. After all, Coda is clearly struggling with some pretty heavy problems and Wreden seems to be incapable of coming to terms with the changes that his friend is going through. After some time, this perspective starts to change. The player is forced to question whether or not Wreden is correctly interpreting Coda's feelings.
As much as I would desperately like to enjoy the originality of this game, and as much as I appreciate the unique style that Wreden consistently brings to the table, I find that it's difficult to get over the pretentiousness and forced artsiness of The Beginner's Guide. It comes across as trying too hard to be unique. It seems to be an attempt to recapture the magic of The Stanley Parable when perhaps Wreden should have tried for something new; or, at the very least, should have tried for something entertaining.
I would say that the only redeeming factor about The Beginner's Guide was a pretty good twist in the last 20 minutes or so that changed the nature of the game and was able to briefly shock me out of my tedium.
Given that there's no real "game" that's being played, it's difficult to explain how gameplay works. The only controls available to the player are the ability to move around and the ability to select from among several options when multiple options are available. For example, one part of the game might involve walking down a flight of stairs and meeting a person at the bottom. Until you meet that person, the only controls you have are moving the camera and moving the character (you never actually see your character's avatar because the game is from a first person perspective). If that person at the bottom of the stairs asks you a question, you might have multiple potential responses. The game will allow you to pick one. That's it for the mechanics of control in The Beginner's Guide.
The way the game itself actually works is pretty interesting. Every few minutes, the player is brought to a different game that Coda was developing and the narrator will continue to address the player as each game is completed. One is asked to pay attention to the details in each game, such as the running themes and the changes that occur over time. Through those changes, one is supposed to gain insight into the workings of Coda's mind.
There's no difficulty present in this game and there's nothing the player can do wrong. Whenever multiple options are presented, choosing any of them will take the player to the same place. Some of Coda's games might seem scary or creepy or like there actually is a purpose to them, but those feelings always turn out to be baseless. At the end of the day, the only thing that actually happens in this game is walking forward while the narrator speaks to you. That's it. Don't expect any jump scares, don't expect something interesting to actually happen. The game would be no different if you weren't controlling the character. I suppose that's the only thing that makes this a video game rather than a movie. Even then, the line between movie and game is pretty fine in the case of The Beginner's Guide.
Luckily enough for those that don't enjoy it, the game isn't longer than 90 minutes and it shouldn't even be that long unless one is taking their time. There is no replay value to this game, so unless one is okay with spending $10 on 90 minutes of entertainment that isn't even guaranteed to be entertaining, I'm inclined to think that it's not worth it. I would, however, recommend The Beginner's Guide if it was $1 or less. That would probably make it worth playing.
I highly doubt that a younger crowd would derive any enjoyment from The Beginner's Guide. Despite the fact that it's appropriate for all ages, The Beginner's Guide is definitely directed towards a more adult audience.
Graphics and Audio
There's nothing particularly special about the graphics of this game. They're not terrible, but they are very sharp, clunky, and empty. A better way to put it might be that everything in the game is very straight, boxy, and overly large. It's all angles and open space.
The lighting is mostly dim, although there are some portions of the game that are much brighter. Likewise, the colors are muted with bright, defining colors being a rarity. I have no complaints about these graphics, but only because it's clearly meant to be a part of the game. The graphics are supposed to provide some of the meaning to Coda's games and Wreden comments on them more than once.
There is a soundtrack, but just barely. Given the constant narration as well as the focus on what can be seen in each game, it's very easy to forget that there's any other noise at all. I would describe the soundtrack as difficult to notice, despite the game's focus on audio.
The Beginner's Guide tries to be more than what it is, and this attempt falls short. Despite my own personal opinions, one might very much enjoy this game if they're into interactive storytelling and games that make you think (but not too hard). I want to like this game, but it was profoundly boring and the last half hour had me constantly checking the time. I loved The Stanley Parable, so I can confidently say that my distaste for The Beginner's Guide has nothing to do with the lack of action or the inability to do anything except walk around. Yet, for some reason, in this game a found myself constantly wishing I could do something, anything, except for inexorably continue forward into the story. Perhaps I'm just not cut out for a game that's so unflinchingly linear.
There's no question that many would consider this game art, and it's possible that I fall into that category of person, but the original style of The Beginner's Guide, as well as the deeper meanings that definitely lurk within, fails to make up for the fact that I just wasn't entertained and didn't enjoy myself.
|+ Unique and original||– Nothing to keep the player entertained|
|– Comes across as trying too hard to be artsy|
|– Unrepentantly boring|