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Winter Voices -- Chapter One: Avalanche (PC) artwork

Winter Voices -- Chapter One: Avalanche (PC) review


"Poor pacing, boring battles and mountains of pretentious prattling more suited to a art house coffee shop after hours. The game tries -- it really tries -- to take the gamer on an intellectual ride, to sell to them its world, its setting and its misery. But in doing so, often forgets that it’s meant to be a functioning game underneath all this."


In a lot of ways, I really would like to enjoy Winter Voices’ first episode, and it’s not like I didn’t try. The game is beautiful in many ways, from the hand-drawn graphics to the wildly irregular musical choices that fit almost every situation with a surreal perfection. There’s a unique atmosphere going on in the icy, forgotten village you start your adventure. The conditions are relentless and you are just a frail, defenceless girl -- a girl you need to design from the ground up, blessing her with typical skills like those of a hunter, atypical ones that come with the normalised job of a weaver or ethereal ones that come with being a storyteller. It’s the difference between bullying your way out of situations and making jokes about them until people get uneasy and leave you alone.

It’s even clever about these choices. Weavers, for instance, have no skill outside of their relatively useless craft, so their stats are all based on personality. Build up on the humour stat, and your character can shrug off not only cruel jibes levelled at her, but the odd physical attack as well. This works because, while there’s a turned-based grid-formed battle system you’ll spend a lot of time in, these battles are also very atypical. Rather than fight the cliché norms of fantasy slimes or lurking zombies, the girl is instead plagued with unwelcome flashbacks or delirious hallucinations.

The game starts with a long-winded introduction you might just enjoy, one outlining the sparse, desolate village and its inhospitable conditions. Then, when the point is well made, it will whip out a thesaurus and tell you all over again. A big focal point is made of the non-existent relationship between the girl and her father, but when the game opens with her sitting by his deathbed, she’s understandably distraught. The tutorial for how the battle system works segues straight from this: physically, she fights translucent wraiths and threatening shadows. But what she’s really fighting is the desire to just give up; to curl up in a corner and die.

Calling them battles is misleading in many ways. The girl’s initial forays mean trying to get out of the room and then the house alive. Her core skills consist of guarding against attacks and pushing spectres out of the way so she can advance. It’s extremely effective story-telling that throws you into to a faltering mind struggling not to capsize.

Then you get out of the house, and more narration awaits. While initial readings helped ease you into the game’s sombre settings, the more you hear of the verbose monologues, the less effect they have. Dialogue serves only to repeat itself endlessly, patting itself on the back for every overly-loquacious pseudo-intellectual phrase that soon stops flirting with being pretentious and dives in feet first. As such, the longer the game drags on, the less interested you’ll become in the tale it’s trying to tell.

Soon, you’ll be able to explore the town’s confusing layout, wandering around aimlessly, given rough aims to achieve with no idea where to go and what to do to complete them. Mostly, you’ll talk to people randomly until someone says something significant, then you’ll get right back to wandering around until you set foot outside a hut not unlike the half dozen before them, and find yourself in another battle.

Outside of the tutorial mode, these battles keep their psychological edge: you’re no longer fleeing from unwanted memories, but trying to survive their re-emergence, or repress them once more. And that’s all they’ll keep. No longer gifted with a sense of urgency, you’ll not have to plot your way through their midst to reach a target, but instead survive a set number of turns. This effectively means hiding in a corner for as long as you can while the tediously long sequences play out, drawing on your patience and willingness to see what might happen next. I’m not sure if it’s a curse or a blessing that these fights can be effectively thrown -- there’s no real way to lose. If you fall before the countdown ends, you simply get limited experience points. Perhaps this robs the encounters of the dread they once flourished, but it did mean I could skip them much quicker by mashing the ‘End Go’ command faster than I pump keys in Track & Field.

It’s all a shame, because Winter Voices’ first episode has some moments of sparkling brilliance, combining the low-tech hand drawn artwork with the odd inspired moment of effective writing. Then, it goes right back into miring itself in as many ways as possible. Poor pacing, boring battles and mountains of pretentious prattling more suited to an art house coffee shop after hours. The game tries -- it really tries -- to take the gamer on an intellectual ride, to sell us its world, its setting and its misery. But in doing so, it often forgets that it’s meant to be a functioning game underneath all this.

Rating: 3/10


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 01, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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CoarseDragon posted October 01, 2010:

Overall not to bad. I felt the review could use another once over. You made some interesting points and I wonder if there was so much text because this is the first chapter.
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EmP posted October 01, 2010:

Urgh -- how did I miss that? Thanks for pointing them out. Those -- and others -- now fixed.

Sadly, I'm under no illusion that it's not wordy because it's the opening chapter, but is so because the developer loves the sound of their own droning hyperbole. Here's hoping Chapter 2 hires an editor.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 02, 2010:

I will say:

"Dialogue serves only to repeat itself endlessly, patting itself on the back for every overly-loquacious pseudo-intellectual phrase that soon stops flirting with being pretentious and dives in feet first."

This right here ultimately convinced me to not bother with the game. The rest was icing on the cake, and the battle system sounds pretty yawn-inducing. Thank you for preventing me from possibly wasting money and/or hard drive space on this game.

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