grumbel's The Book of Unwritten Tales (PC) review

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Well executed, but it's a parody without substance

The Book of Unwritten Tales is a classic 2D point&click adventure game released in 2009. It's the first game of the developer King Art. The games humorist plot is inspired by Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and numerous other fantasy, role playing and adventure game elements.

The first thing one notices when launching the game is that it is extremely well executed from a technical point of view. The graphics are a mix of prerendered background and realtime animated 3D character, both of those blend together almost seamlessly. The game offers support for multiple resolutions and aspect ratios, something often still missing from other modern point&click adventures.

On the artistic side things look a little less pretty. While the graphics often have a striking color palette, they miss the final polish that brings them to life. Everything looks a little to smooth and lacks texture. The characters faces are stiff and lifeless and the animations are, typical for most adventures, very primitive. Object grabbing and giving is done by stock "pick up item" animation, instead of animations customized for the specific object.

The games userinterface is based around a single click interface with no verbs, a single click will look at an item, while a second click will pick it up or provide further commentary. An inventory is displayed at the bottom of the screen. Pressing space will display all the hotspots in the current room. One special feature in the game is that it will automatically remove hotspots that are no longer needed. While this reduces clutter and stops repeated dialog from happening, it also makes the game far to easy and mechanic, as you will quickly fall into a pattern of looking at every object in a scene and then combining whatever few objects are left with the things in your inventory. There is rarely a need to give much thought about what objects to use together, as there are simply never very many of them left. That said, the game isn't completely trivial, as there will often times to be a lot of back and forth between multiple scenes to solve a puzzle, but it never feels like there is much thinking required.

The biggest problem with the game however is the story or the lack there of. The game essentially completely hinges on its parodies and pop-culture references, while other adventure games had plenty of them too, they always created a living breathing world along them, here there is never much world building and the games jumps from one joke to the next. The scenarios that you travel through all feel rather arbitrary and the story never really feels like it is moving forward, it simply goes into another direction where there are more puzzles to solve. The characters you get to play over the course of the game also feel rather underdeveloped and you never really care about them much, even the end game doesn't change that, as there is never any build up of tension.

That said, the last chapter of the game had the potential of being brilliant, it comes around with a small, but fun twist, that then however feels completely underdeveloped, as a third of it feels essentially missing, as what you think would be a large chapter of the game, turns into an event that is solved with a few clicks and things happening off-screen.

Overall, The Book of Unwritten Tales isn't a bad game by any means, it just fails to stand out. The gameplay is solid and the graphics are fine, but the humor never really crosses the line into actually being funny, it always feels stiff and forced. You'll understand why it should be funny, but you never actually laugh. I found myself skipping through most of the dialog in the end. The puzzles aren't really worth it either, as the interface makes solving them a little to easy. Once the credit rolled, I just didn't really care much about anything that happened.

The game was played in German language and took around 12h to complete.

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