I actually wrote a review of this game on a site I was writing for before, but it’s one of those games that remains in the back of mind almost all the time. So much of this game speaks to me, and it’s one that I find myself going back to time and time again. The game focuses on Dan Kaplan, a struggling writer, and his family during one summer in which they rent a home. During that summer you take control of an unknown force to help shape the future for the family. It is a simple enough game with a lot of more profound overtones.
Dan is struggling with sticking to the deadline for his latest novel. His wife is struggling with her own dissatisfaction with her marriage and that she has given so much up for Dan. Their child is struggling with school and feeling disconnected from his parents, especially his father. Each person desperately wants something from this summer vacation, but it’s impossible to have all three characters leave completely satisfied.
It is a blunt look at the reality of what we sacrifice for our dreams and the fact that there is almost never a perfect outcome where everyone is 100% happy.
So how does this work with gameplay? Well as stated you are an unknown force in the life of the family. You move around the family reading clues in the objects around them, and their memories. Each chapter your goal is to uncover exactly what they want, and you do so by interacting with them and the objects around them. Once you get enough clues, you will read their minds, and they will say what they want.
The hitch is you can only choose to grant one “desire.” As a for instance in the first chapter Dan wants to find his notebook to help him write, his wife wants to share a bottle of wine with her husband so they can connect, and their son wants to play a game with his dad. If you pick the wine, the wife gets what she wants, but the other two won’t get their “desires.” There is an odd sort of middle ground that can be achieved. So if you pick the wife’s desire, you can also choose the son or Dan’s. Doing so will give a sort of bonus towards what they want but they won’t be as happy, and the person you ignore will always be let down.
This is a harsh look at priorities. Let me state again there is no possible way to get the best results for all three characters in one play through. The best you can possibly do is all being happy but still suffering some consequences for not being enough of a focus.
The amazing part of this is that it nails the point it’s trying to make. Dan cannot be a successful author, have a great marriage, and have a son that gets all his attention. Something has to give in Dan’s life, and you are making the choice for him. Does he give more energy to his family and still write but not as well or successfully as he could? Or does he throw himself full force into his writing but ignore either his wife or child (or both)?
This is a profound message given to the gamer in a straightforward way. At the end of every chapter, you are forced to see what choice does. One person in the family is happy, one is ok, and one is disappointed. At the end of the game, you see the larger picture. It’s possible to have Dan’s career fail, his wife leave him, or their son suffer because he was not given enough attention. It’s a harsh and brutal lesson given to the gamer and is done so compellingly.
My problem lies in the fact that the writing doesn’t always support the challenge. As a for instance at one point the son wants to spend time with the dad, but the son needs tutoring. Why does choosing to tutor the son not satisfy both? I understand with the more significant point that the game is making why this doesn’t work, but there are a few instances of this where it feels a bit off.
Still, these blips can be ignored with the overall point of the game. The story is solid showing a struggling writer and his family. The endings are varied depending on which character you choose to focus on or how balanced you try to be. Each of the character’s stories are well written, and you might connect more with one of them, none of them feel like a “bad guy.” The game also plays with you emotionally. Disappointing a character can feel awful, and that to me is a success. The fact that I couldn’t ever give all three Kaplan’s a perfect ending was upsetting. Not only that but while going for a certain character’s “desires,” it forces you to face the difficulty you cause to others. If you choose not to go for a balance, you will ultimately have to hurt someone, and you have to acknowledge that. This game does not hold back.
In the end, it’s a well written and beautiful story about the reality of what we can and cannot achieve in our lives, and the sacrifices we have to make while going for those goals. The gameplay is not the most compelling, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s about the experience of influencing the Kaplan’s lives and seeing the outcome.
If you like games that are more interactive stories I highly recommend this one. There is a lot to play around with and a variety of endings you can see. If you don’t like those sorts of games, I will still say this might be one worth looking at if for no other reason than the profound and realistic message.
I liked this game when I reviewed it before, and I like it now. It breaks my heart, makes me happy, and causes reflection. I don’t know that I will ever feel that it’s anything but a great experience.