The Beard in the Mirror (PC) review
"It really grows on you."
It would be very easy to label The Beard in the Mirror as a throwback to the early years of adventure gaming, so Iíll do just that. The Beard in the Mirror is a throwback to the early years of adventure gaming, resplendent in its simple pixel graphics and dumb icon interface. It very much wants to roost among the classics, specifically Sierraís seminal library. To this end, it offers you a points system that rewards you for extracurricular puzzle solving, and even provides a myriad of ways for your character to meet his humourous end. However, it is, after all, a modern game aping a classic, so rather than smugly kill you off and banish you back to your last save, it describes how you would have died before backtracking you to your poorly-made decision and hopes hindsight has provided you some wisdom.
Itís the story of Paul, an aimless twenty-something trying to find some direction in life after leaving home and graduating college. Heís awoken one morning by a strange girl at his bedside who claims to know him, but he holds no memory of. Distraught at not being recognised, the girl flees, and Paul chalks this night-time visit up as a particularly vivid dream. This mindset is challenged when he awakes and finds himself locked in his room. After ransacking the place to locate a key, he finds his bedroom door now leads to a forest path heís pretty certain wasnít there the morning before. Neither was the angry guy, waiting in ambush, who accuses Paul of numerous crimes he considers himself completely incapable of performing.
Paul doesnít remember the world heís forced to explore, but the world seems to remember him. The majority of the adventure is trying to make sense of that, and finding his place inside the chaos of it all. Though this sounds like quite a heavy task, Paul spends most of his journey unable to comprehend the weight of it all. Much of the game makes fun of his inability to treat his situation with the gravity it deserves. For example, when forced to ransack his room looking for a solution to the locked door, youíll quickly find his favourite crowbar, spray-painted pink and lovingly adorned with a frilly bow. Youíd think this the ideal tool for prying open his door and securing his freedom, but heís very attached to his crowbar and doesnít want to risk chipping the paintjob.
To the credit of the developer, thereís a kind of absurdist humour running roughshod throughout. A local cobbler finds the idea that someone isnít interested in his exquisite wares so impossible, he takes disinterest in his goods as a genius bargaining ploy, and haggles himself into oblivion. Guards that show no interest in gatekeeping new areas behind routine fetch quests are cross-examined by Paul for not living up to the trope correctly. Itís all pretty light-hearted, until the reasons Paul canít remember anything starts to become apparent wherein, well, itís still pretty light-hearted. But thereís certainly a shift in tone as the game processes; it never forgets that itís a goofball at heart thatís asking you to make your way through a foreign world, solving all of lifeís problems with whatever rubbish youíve managed to cram into your pockets, but it also never forgets how things started. With a mystery.
The Beard in the Mirror makes you work towards the answers youíll find, but it doesnít drag them out. With around a four hour lifespan, itís never going to compare in size with some of the goliaths of old, but it doesnít need to. It knows the story it wants to tell, and that story gets told. It fleshes out a world that shouldnít exist, finishing a fable that it never really starts and shunts Paul begrudgingly along into adulthood. It also provides three unique uses for vegan-produced vegetable-flavoured gumballs. Thatís a remarkable achievement in itself.
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