In times of trouble, have you ever wished you could just close your eyes and retreat to the world of your imagination, a magical world free of care and strife? In Silence, we see just how far imagination can take its young protagonists, and how it's never quite far enough. Daedalic's long-awaited follow up to The Whispered World is stunningly beautiful, deliciously atmospheric and totally adorable, filled by turns with wide-eyed joy and tragedy. The story could have benefited from a bit more breathing room, but it's nonetheless a memorable, haunting experience and a worthy successor.
If you haven't played The Whispered World yet but think you may someday, look away now. You don't absolutely need to have played the original in order to enjoy Silence – the early scenes fill you in on everything you need to know – but it's full of references and resonances that will only hit home if you have. It's also pretty much impossible to discuss the plot of the sequel without spoiling one of the first game's major twists, so you have been warned!
The story opens in a picturesque, snowy Alpine village. All half-timbered stone houses and children building snowmen, it's the picture of tranquility and a lovely place for Noah and his little sister Renie to grow up. Until, that is, the air raid siren goes off and the sky is filled with fighter planes, swooping down to unleash their bombs. Noah and Renie scramble back to the orphanage where they live and just manage to close the door of their bunker before the light from an explosion flares outside.
Huddled crying on the bed, Renie asks Noah to tell her the story of Silence, the imaginary land he conjured for himself in The Whispered World, and of Sadwick, the melancholy clown whose persona he adopted there. Noah was stuck in a coma at the time, and Silence was his mind's way of dealing with that. To Renie, though, it's a story of magic and wonder, and it comforts her to see her brother act it out.
Then another bomb drops, even closer this time, knocking them both out. Noah awakes to find the building crumbled around him, Renie gone and the power out – though for some reason the TV is still playing. Exploring in an attempt to find his sister, he finds himself not in a dank basement but in an enormous cavern filled with detritus from Silence, remnants of the destruction he wrought to finally escape and wake up from his coma. Weirder still, the jagged opening near the ceiling is a gaping mouth, and after climbing through he finds – somehow – lush grass and summer sunshine. Could this really be Silence, and if so, what does that mean for the two siblings in the real world?
As in reality, all is not well in Silence, with a false queen upon the throne, monstrous blank-faced Seekers roaming the land in search of a shard from a magical mirror, and only a small band of rebels standing in her way. Noah sets off in search of Renie, the mirror, and the queen, with only a caterpillar named Spot for company. It's a journey that will take in talking rocks, cryptic myths, carnivorous plants and cheeky schoolchildren. Travelling from the magnificent city of Kalimar to the lighthouse at the end of the world, the two children have much to learn and devastating choices to make.
Silence looks and sounds absolutely stunning; it's a true work of art. In fact, my first thought was that it feels like concept art brought to life. Where The Whispered World was like a beautiful 2D cartoon, here everything looks several steps more realistic, while still retaining a hand-painted quality. It also feels full of life: there are creatures everywhere, as well as rushing waterfalls, billowing smoke and leaves drifting on the wind. Motes of dust dance in shafts of sunlight, mist swirls, clouds drift. Locations range from sunlit uplands to dank misty hollows, from vertiginous mountain peaks to volcanic craters. It's a traditional fantasy world in many ways – Kalimar has elements ranging from a medieval marketplace to more Victorian-looking shops and plazas – but represents a lively, eclectic take on the idea. Each area has a definite personality, too, whether warm and inviting or dank and creepy; wherever you go, you get an instant feeling for the place.
The presentation uses three-dimensional characters against two-dimensional backgrounds, but the environments are layered and move at different speeds as the viewpoint shifts, giving a much more convincing 3D effect. Even though the world is composed of a series of single-screen locations, the camera shifts gently as you walk around, making everything feel unusually dynamic. Shadows and subtle depth-of-field effects add further to the sense of polish and care. All this loveliness does come with a bit of a price, though: each location takes up to 10-15 seconds to load, and the areas are small, typically 2-3 scenes each. Swooping vistas lead you from place to place and help you fit them into the overall landscape, but the limited exploration within each location can feel a little claustrophobic at times.
The music, too, is delightful, with a lush orchestral soundtrack built on gentle piano- and string-led melodies. It's peaceful and wistful for the most part, though with a definite undercurrent of sadness. That said, it can be playful, fearful or frantic when the occasion calls for it, scoring events in a confidently cinematic way. There's also a rich environmental soundscape that only enhances the feeling of abundant life.Continued on the next page...