An interesting game more than a particularly good one, The Novelist seems to reflect one of its own main characters: ambitious, potentially excellent, seemingly aware of its failings, yet still flawed and never quite managing to pull all its threads together.
The general setup is good: the Kaplan family, formed of a father plagued by writer's block, an artistic mother unsure of her place in the world, and a withdrawn young son, move into a large coastal house for the summer. They're not alone: the player takes the role of a benevolent spirit, observing the Kaplans and helping inform their small (yet ultimately important) decisions.
This is done by swotting up on each character's dreams and fears, manifested in the physical (notebooks, drawings) and even their own memories, which you can relive. After you've done enough digging, you can then choose whose desires you'd like to see realised. Doing so, however, comes at the cost of disappointing one or even both of the other two.
Most of the drama is drawn from competing affections: relationships, careers, and the compromises people make. Your influence (you tell the dad how to proceed via his dreams) is vital. Its decidedly adult theme is explored well, and doubtless a few parents will find themselves nodding (or sighing) along in recognition.
Mechanically, however, there are big problems. The property itself is always described as huge, but it actually only contains a handful of rooms. As the gameplay never changes – you stay out of sight (by possessing light fittings), collect hints, relive memories, and then make a choice – you're constantly roaming around the same sparse environments looking for clues, repeating the same systems over and over again. It tires quickly, and isn't deep enough to sustain interest. Gone Home was criticised for its progression systems, but it's preferable to what's on offer here.
While the writer's block angle may be over-familiar, how it serves as a springboard for stories of isolation and marital/familial trouble is very effective, even if it's not as profound as it thinks. Sadly, it's just not engaging enough overall.
Version Tested: PC
Finished the narrative in 2 hours, in Stealth mode. I'd recommend Story mode, where the family can't see you, however.
5 / 10
- Interesting narrative.
- The house itself could have done with being more like The Shining's Overlook hotel.
- Ultra repetitive.