When it comes to point and click adventure games, casting Artifex Mundi’s many puzzlers aside, there’s not a great deal that stand out. Games such as King’s Quest and The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, in my opinion, take top spot for a range of different reasons. Truberbrook aims to get in on the glory with its distinct visual style, its classic old-school gameplay, and its seemingly interesting premise. The problem, however, is that it doesn’t come together quite as well as the it could have. It’s a worthy trek to take, but it’s hardly memorable past its unique presentation.
It’s the late sixties, and players take on the role of one Hans Tannhauser, a young American scientist that, following a lottery win, finds himself on vacation in a remote village in rural Germany. The village in question is none other than the titular Truberbrook, a quiet place that’s much more eventful than it seems. That eventful, in fact, that even on his first night in Truberbrook, Hans is robbed. Throughout your initial investigations, you’ll soon come to realize that things are not all as they seem, and your presence in this odd locale may not be coincidental after all.
You’ll meet outlandish characters and learn about the town’s bizarre history, and ultimately begin unraveling story threads that turn what should have been a vacation, into something much more serious and desperate. I cant possibly go into further detail without running the risk of spoiling it, simply due to how the game’s narrative is structured. That said, I’ll credit the game, it does a good job at keeping things interesting to begin with, but it doesn’t quite manage to maintain grip throughout. That, and it’s a fairly short affair in which its ending doesn’t feel all that satisfying.
The same cannot be said about the game’s stylish graphical design. Developer btf (bildundtonfabrik) began work by crafting the game’s scenes as miniature models, using handwork and “masses” of glue. On top of that, and to present the game with a realistic look, they illuminated each scene with real lighting to produce a distinct overall look. Once this work was complete, btf then digitized these scenes through the use of intelligent photogrammetry, and then further enhanced each scene with additional effects; reflections, real-time shadowing, particle effects and more.
The end result makes for one hell of a rich, yet fittingly strange looking adventure. There’s some transitional blemishes here and there, but for the most part, Truberbrook looks absolutely great. I’ve personally not witnessed something as visually distinct since Armikrog, which is the best praise I can offer. I’ll also commend the game for its decent audio design, being that everything from the effects and cues, right up to the voice acting, is generally well accomplished. Speaking of voice acting, the game’s writing is also pretty solid, putting forward a good blend of weirdness, silliness, and humor.
Whatever the case, and back to basics, Truberbrook does well at feeding you into the swing of things via a brief yet informative tutorial. Here, you’ll get to grips with the game’s handling, which to be blunt, isn’t all that hard to grasp anyway. It’s your standard point and click affair; chart a range of environments, interact with objects and people, and use your intelligence to piece together the overarching mystery via solving a bunch of smaller mysteries. There’s a fair bit of variation on show as far as the game’s environments are concerned, but not a great deal of freedom in place to back that up.
You’ll move through a range of varied indoor and outdoor locations as you progress through the game’s few chapters. Much to be expected, an inventory system is in place to gather wares along the way. Using this, you’ll gradually establish some understanding as to what’s going on with the story, as well as using said wares to further advance as you solve some truly testing puzzles. Sadly, I cant speak highly of the puzzles in the broadest sense of the phrase, simply because many of them feel too haphazard and lack a meaning that sits inline with the game’s character.
Several times I found myself strutting about the whole map trying to work out what the hell I was expected to do, or, where the heck I was expected to go. Sure, the lack of hand-holding is hardly new in games of this form, but when we consider that Truberbrook sports a puzzle design that literally gives you too little aid, it gets tiresome, fast. Throw in the fact that some choice branches don’t open up until you interact with a very specific object in a specific way, and that these necessities are typically unorthodox, and you can gauge exactly where I’m going with this.
You’ll oftentimes need to think well outside of the box in order to break the game’s underlining code, which to a small degree, feels like a cheap way of extending the game’s longevity. What made the likes of King’s Quest so appealing is that the puzzles in that game, although convoluted from time to time, feel grounded to the game’s world. Here, in Truberbrook, you’ll stumble upon puzzles that defy even that, and as such, quite a few of them come over quite frustrating and tedious. The ones that don’t frustrate you are usually that easy that they’re pretty insulting.
Truberbrook utilizes a simple inventory management system, being that you’ll pick an item of use up, and store it until you need it. It’s very hands-off in comparison to its peers, to its detriment. The game’s lighter puzzles consist of gathering a required item and then merely interacting with the object that desires said item to overcome it. That’s that, and yes, the easier brain twisters really are that straightforward. In essence, this means that so long as you’ve a keen eye for items that look useful, you’ll rarely struggle in this game until you come up against the aforementioned nonsensical puzzles.
This lack of a sturdy difficulty curve greatly holds back the experience. Further to that, the game’s handling can be a bit unresponsive and counter-intuitive in select locations, which doesn’t help when you’re trying to engage with important set pieces and characters. That being said, I don’t want to come down on Truberbrook too hard, because there’s quite a bit to appreciate here. There’s not many NPCs present throughout the game, and although dialogue choices are far from in-depth, the choices you’re presented with are usually engaging and quite fun to toy around with.
It helps that the UI is very well struck throughout the entirety of play. In fact, with the previously alluded to movement issues aside, I daresay this is one of the best UIs I’ve encountered in a point and click game in recent memory. Controlling a cursor with the right stick, you’ll maneuver around the screen seeking out points of interest. Holding down LB showcases nearby interactions. Once you highlight something to engage with, you’ll have the option to investigate, interact, speak, or use an item from your inventory, all of which is tied to the D-Pad.
There’s one freaking annoying drawback to be mindful of here, and that sits not with the otherwise stellar UI, but with controlling the damn cursor. The cursor makes a habit of gravitating towards things that you can interact with whenever you get close by. That’s not a problem in itself, but when we factor in that some scenes pile several objects in close proximity, you can imagine how frustrating it gets to correctly highlight the choice you need. Yes, a small gripe, but a gripe that occurred often. Outside of that, the game is pretty easy to gel with.
It’s a very fluid structure, and one that feeds into the game’s already simplistic framework quite well. The game never wastes your time, already blocking out engagement options that you don’t need to make. Some may argue that this only makes the game easier, but in truth, it really just cuts out a lot of that senseless padding that games of a similar type shovel in by the bucket load. Truberbrook just wants to be a stroll in the park, with some obstacles in place to give you something to play with. This, for better and for worse, is the sum of the game’s identity.
That, ladies and gents, is the crux of play, and this is largely how the majority of your time will be spent during your stay in Truberbrook. You’ll move through its tight environments, engage with the locals, solve puzzles, and advance the story. On paper, it’s your run of the mill point and click adventure with added style. In practice, due to its shortcomings, it falls slightly wide of the mark. It’s hard to realistically criticize its short length, lasting a handful of hours on a moderate run, because had it run any longer, it certainly would have outstayed its welcome.
The bottom line in all of this is that if you’re a fan of the genre, and you’re craving something fresh, Truberbrook is an easy investment. If, however, you fancy depth across exploration, puzzle solving, and character engagement, you’ll be merely satisfied with what’s on offer. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s clear that the developer has poured sweat and blood into this project from day dot, but with a lack of any real meat to the game’s bones, I cant wholeheartedly recommend this to those that are seeking gameplay innovation. Make of that what you will.
Truberbrook effortlessly stands out on the merits of its uniquely gorgeous presentation, its stellar voice work, and its overall decent writing. Unfortunately, the whole ordeal religiously falters as far as its core functionality and its puzzle design is concerned. The end result makes for an adventure that seemingly looks like nothing else, but largely plays like a poor imitation of any given point-and-click game worth its salt.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.