The Piano is a story-driven Adventure-Action game developed and published by Mistaken Visions. In The Piano, you're in control of your own discoveries as you freely roam through Paris in the 1940s. The Piano mostly features fictional creatures created by the main character's traumas and self-doubt as a result of his past. The Piano explores the past and present and reveals its own backstory throughout its many hidden clues and items.
The Piano is available on Steam for $9,99 (US) and 8,99€ (EU).
John Barnerway is a failure. He, unlike his three brothers, hasn't been capable enough to play the piano professionally. His three brothers have all become successful musicians, playing the piano in big opera houses. The press is in love with them. John, on the other hand, feels unworthy of anything and doesn't value his own life. The four brothers have had a rough youth with a very harsh father, punishing them upon any mistake. The brothers helped each other through these tough times and loved one another. The death of their mother has hurt them all deeply and was the first of a sequence of family deaths.
The Piano is a quest for clarity. John seems to be struggling with amnesia; all of his brothers appear to be dead. He doesn't know what's happened. The press suspects John to be their murderer. He would be jealous of their successes. As John has no conscious memory of any event prior, he seeks help from a professional doctor known to his family. He's aided one of his brothers, Louis, before. This psychiatrist, Dr. Hoben, claims to be able to help him.
Throughout the game, John collects memories, items, and clues that all uncover past events. He also utilizes his memory to recreate certain scenes. His bond with each of his brothers, his fears and uncertainties, even the death scenes and theories of his brothers' deaths are all to be discovered as you progress.
In addition to this, some stranger indications also point John towards certain destinations. He's clearly directed by his mind to go somewhere, and on his way, he finds texts scattered around the floor that seek his help or confirm the desperation of the situation.
As Louis Barnerway was shot in the street, George Barnerway died as a result of health issues and Valentine Barnerway fell to its death from the Eiffel Tower, all three within mere days of each other, speculations arose as of the cause. Were they suicidal as a result of the death of their mother and their brothers, or have they been murdered?
Although the press sees John as the murderer, the police haven't found a reason yet to believe he did it. It's up to you as the player, in John's footsteps, to avoid all interactions with people and to dodge all evil creatures from John's mind to find out what happened to John's deceased family.
The story is the absolute selling point of The Piano. It's dark, grim, sad and it's what keeps you playing. Eventually, you'll create your own theories about what happened, and learning about the past gets increasingly interesting as you progress. Such a unique passionately told story is the major appeal of the game.
The Piano has a list of problems and some surprisingly well thought-out gameplay components. Let's just start off by saying that the game isn't well-built whatsoever. You'll notice framerate issues on any graphical setting on both high- and low-end PC's. Apart from that, I couldn't start the game with my keyboard and mouse on both regular and Big Picture modus and was forced to use my gamepad from the get-go. Furthermore, the game's crashed three times in the first three hours of play.
The controls shouldn't be called 'controls' for The Piano. Clunky is an understatement. You won't feel in control at any time in the game. John's movement is sloppy, his running inconsistent, his directions unreliable, his crouching imprecise, his rolls laughably stupid and there's no option to jump over small obstacles. Just moving from one street to the other is a frustrating mess, the game is definitely at its worst in simple movement.
Additionally, the menu isn't easy to navigate due to the same issues. There's just no control over what you're doing with your gamepad or keyboard and mouse.
There are several gameplay components that are featured repeatedly. First and foremost, you'll be collecting items that either progress your story comprehension or have some other useful needs. This gameplay component consists of clicking dots, like most adventure games. Some items can be consumed and collected multiple times, these stand on convenient spots. Other more crucial items are hidden in corners with very little lighting. Your inventory is very small, but since most items are used right away, it won't be an issue most of the time.
Another unavoidable gameplay component is sneaking past dark memories that take the shape of monsters. There are varied monsters that either seek you or just straight on engage you. Since John has no combat abilities, all you can do is avoid them at all costs.
These monsters play a major role in The Piano and apart from their cause (Seekers represent John's torment and anger for example) add nothing to the story. They actually felt overdue and made the game a nuisance to play through for me.
Once you encounter one of the monsters directly, your insanity (this game's HP, reminiscent of Amnesia: The Dark Descent) drops and can only be recovered by using Laudanum. Laudanum is one of the easier to find substances in the game, so you'll most likely survive all quick monster exchanges. It's the more savage monsters that can kill you instantly and stop your progression that you should be worried about.
Some monsters are to be defeated, however. They're encountered only in special places that mark your progress and are as horrifying as they are easy to beat. A tedious quick-time event leads to the expulsion of them.
The Piano also has some puzzles in store for you. For example, all piano's found in the game are savegame stations. There's also a decent autosave system which you can rely on, but I'd recommend saving at all piano's you encounter. Sometimes, however, you can play the piano. A certain sequence of piano notes will have to be played in a certain order to progress. The notes were scattered around the area in certain places. These puzzles would've been very enjoyable, if not for the many annoying monsters that had to pass me, delaying my discoveries.
The discoveries you make lead up to theories, that might make you form your own conclusions. Certain story area sections are designed to make you learn about the death of your brothers. Binding your findings will lead to theories that will make you think. It's very reminiscent of most detective adventure games that involve deductions.
Overall, while the gameplay isn't without merit, most of it is tedious and poorly designed. The story is the driving factor behind the game, and some simple gameplay fillers can really annoy you and delay your progress. It makes playing through the game more of an objective than a continuously thriving adventure.
Visuals And Audio
For an indie game, the ambitions in visual aspect have been set very high with graphics that would be considered decent in the seventh generation. However, as much as its gameplay components, The Piano's graphics also feel pretty inconsistent. Some areas are designed with more care than others, the effects can range from great to very poor and the character animations are as emotionless as the facial animations of a Ubisoft-character.
Despite its inconsistencies, The Piano does have enough atmosphere build in its graphics to create a dark and horrifying setting. The tone of the game is set by it and it depicts the many struggles concerning John.
Still, the many graphical issues, some horrible physics, invisible walls, poorly designed textures and repetitiveness of its scenery make The Piano's graphics look lacking in the end. Its technical graphical prowess can't live up to the scale of its world and therefore fail to beautifully capture 1940s Paris.
As for the sound, most of it is pretty good. The voice acting isn't great but does its job, the sound editing might be fairly cheap but it works as well, switching in style during more tense moments. Some foreshadowing music also plays at several moments and is building up the tension throughout the game. There are no real complaints, but no real selling points either.
Sometimes, the game cuts to some animated classically drawn segment which depicts the news concerning the Barneway brothers' murders. These segments feel well-made and fit the theme of the game. They're an additional way of story building and serve the game positively.
Considering that the graphics look like they could be from a bigger company in the seventh generation, I can tell that there's some real talent on the graphical compartment of Mistaken Visions. This makes me wonder if a world more compact could've been implemented instead since its own scale seems to have hindered the game. Some more effective adjustments would've made this game more consistent in its looks and might finally make the entire game a polished whole. As for now, the visuals and audio do their job well but could've done much better judging by its high points.
The Piano is an indie game with a compelling story and much ambitions. The technical aspect sadly can't keep up with these ambitions. The game, therefore, results in a clunky mess gameplay wise and is a bother to play through until the end. While it looks decent, sounds okay and tells such an original story with a great setting, it just doesn't deliver as a consistently joyful experience due to its many issues. I have high hopes for the game following some patches in the future, however, and will definitely return to The Piano once its main annoyances have been removed. For now, its pricing is great and its story already thrives, but all other aspects need serious attention and fixing.
|+ Great pricing||– Technical drops and crashes|
|+ Original, compelling story||– Uncontrollable controls|
|+ Intriguing atmosphere||– Tedious gameplay segments|
|– Dull sneaking sections|