The Book of Unwritten Tales
Typically, I begin a review with a little background about the game, discussing its pedigree and resume. I'm going to eschew that here and start with this: BUY THIS GAME!
The Book of Unwritten Tales (henceforth abbreviated BoUT) is a classic point-and-click fantasy adventure game, harkening back to the glory days of LucasArts in its humor and gameplay, but decidedly 21st Century in its graphical style. Published by Germany's King Art Games back in 2009, the game was a huge hit in Europe, and when word grew of an English language version, many of us were on the edge of our seat. Of course, there were doubts: Will the notorious German humor translate well to the Americas? How will the English voice acting stand up? Will Americans "get it?" I can absolutely assure you that any pre-release doubts were unwarranted. The American release of BoUT is not just the best game I've played this year, but the best game I've played in many years.
The actual storyline is a pastiche of familiar bits. The main character is a gnome named Wilbur Weathervane who inadvertently finds himself entrusted with delivering a Ring of Power to an arch-mage for its safekeeping. Wilbur is part Frodo Baggins, part Willow, part Rincewind and part Luke Skywalker. Along the way, Wilbur collects a couple of compatriots: a female elf adventurer (who has her own avian sidekick) and a renegade smuggler/conman with his own dirigible who is almost-but-not-completely unlike Han Solo. Together, the three of you must end the eternal war between Orcs and Humanity, put paid to the bounty hunters, make Wilbur a mage and travel through time. Yes, we've done all these things before, or seen them all done in movies. But the charm of the game is that it knows we've done or seen all this before, and makes hilarious jokes about it. From the beginning, BoUT is crammed full of jokes referencing classic games and movies. And the jokes work. I may have laughed more at this game than I did at any single Monkey Island game, and not just because of all the Monkey Island references BoUT contains. There are numerous "in-jokes" to all the LucasArts greats, as well as dozens of other great classic games and a bunch of classic movies. While the storyline itself falls apart a little bit in Chapter 4, the jokes make it all worthwhile.
Actual gameplay is straightforward and familiar. Point-and-click to move or examine objects. Popup inventory if you move the mouse to the bottom of the screen. Some items need to be examined more than once. Right-click to get descriptions of items in your inventory. Active hotspots on the screen let you find objects of interest. Spacebar shows you all exits/items. The one twist in gameplay (and it's not really a twist) is that in some scenes you will have two or even all three of your companions together in the same scenario. It then requires teamwork and switching between characters to accomplish your goal. In those situations, you'll see little round medallions containing pictures of each of the characters in the upper-left of your screen. Simply click the icon of the character you want to control.
Graphically, the game is magnificent. BoUT is played in the third-person 3D perspective, using both straight-on and overhead views. The attention to detail is amazing, letting you see every pixel of a character and his/her setting. The facial detailing in particular is astonishing. The style is chiaroscuro meets realism meets comic book. I can safely say that BoUT blows away Benoit Sokal in the graphic department.
Which leaves the voice acting... which is some of the best I've ever encountered outside of the best FMV games ( Tex Murphy , et al). The voice cast is predominantly British, which fit in perfectly with the LoTR-feel and plot of the game. King Art obviously went the extra step in this department to make sure that the humor of the game translated well, and it works in spades. I can understand why it took two years to produce an English version of BoUT... and every day was worth the effort.
Finally, is it worth the $30 price tag? We finished the game in about 16 hours, which is much shorter than one might expect to play a $30 game. You can get twice the gameplay out of a Myst game or The Longest Conversation or many other point-and-clicks for $20.
I don't regret a penny of it. It was the best game money I've spent since Anachronox .
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