When I looked at the synopsis for The Novelist, I gotta admit, I was hooked by the question it posed: can you achieve your dreams without pushing away the people you love? From my viewpoint, I give what I consider the right answer: no, you can’t.
Kent Hudson, the brains behind the game, has you play as a ghost of sorts that inhabits a woodland cabin where the Kaplan family spends the summer. There are two way to play the game, essentially marking them as the game’s difficulty system. “Stealth” mode is the default setting of the game, where you have to hide and possess the light fixtures around the house as long as they remain powered (as you play, the Kaplans will start to turn off some lights, eliminating possible jump points). “Story” mode eliminates the difficulty of trying to hide, as it makes you permanently invisible to the Kaplans (think of it as “easy mode”). Between these two difficulties, they don’t really impact gameplay a whole lot, as it all depends on whether you want to have that risk of being seen or not.
As a ghost (of sorts), you also have the ability to enter the memories of the Kaplans (who consist of titular character Dan, the novelist father trying to work on his latest book; Linda, the wife who reveals in writing that their marriage is very unstable; and Tommy, the young son who struggles with reading at school). Inside each member’s memories, you have to uncover clues about each of their lives and to help them to the best of your abilities. If you’ve enabled stealth, you can’t allow yourself to be seen by any of the Kaplans. I found out how that works when Tommy spotted me in the conservatory and tried to follow me as I made my getaway out the door, around the corner, and possessing a lamp. If you allow yourself to be seen for too long, you spook that person that spotted you and you lose the option of compromising with that family member as a result. Luckily for me, that never happened.
What makes this game connect to the players is that it reflects the nature of real life. There isn’t enough time to do what everyone wants and to make them happy about it. I won’t reveal any major points, but I will say that in my playthrough, I realized that making those sorts of decisions was incredibly hard. I felt bad at some points because of how upset and lonely Tommy felt, but I tried to juggle all three Kaplans’ needs. In the end, I did what I felt was right and inspired Dan to do the best he could with his book. However, I had him pay the ultimate cost: making his book succeed is never worth destroying his family over. I won’t play through the game again to see all the outcomes so as to not ruin the great feeling of satisfaction I got through my one and only trip, but I will say that The Novelist created a great atmosphere and had excellent character development. Although the graphics aren’t the best, I think they don’t have to be utterly spectacular to tell a good story. The game was on the short side, as you can play through the whole game within about two hours (more if you’re a completionist and explore every last combination and outcome).
Overall, The Novelist is a good adventure game that connects to its audience in some way or another with its story on conflicting interests between family and career. Give this game a look! It’s $15 on Steam.
Verdict: 8/10 (Sink Your Fangs)
+ Great story with wide variety of choices and outcomes || + Simple mechanics
= Little variation in difficulty; depends on whether you want to risk being seen or not
– The game is short, even for playing through all combinations and endings || – Relatively simple graphics