The notion of a "darker, grittier" adventure is hardly a new concept--and it goes back a lot further than Gabriel Knight. It's almost amusing to think that, nearly twenty years ago, Sierra On-Line took strides into the "darker" era with the Manhunter and Police Quest series--amusing because in modern context, these games are about as gritty as Zoo Tycoon.
Now, though, technology has leapt into the stratosphere, and as a result a much more authentic framework for dark and challenging adventures is available. Which consistently leads me to wonder: why are developers refusing to venture into the realm of "gritty" at a time when they can make it work better than ever? Look, I'm on record as loving Runaway and Tony Tough and I'm as excited about Vampyre Story as the next guy. But I'm craving an adventure game that achieves darkness without having to resort to gratuitous nonsense or characters far too quippy with their one-liners.
Ever since we first learned about The Moment of Silence, it has held a special place in my heart. German developer House of Tales has emphasized--both in their studio's choice of names and in their repeated philosophy in interviews--their desire to create an effective narrative and build their games on character development and interaction. After spending some time with a preview build of Moment of Silence, I feel very confident that this may be one of the great point & click adventures of the modern era. All the signs are here: an engaging and intriguing story, likable characters, a realistic and human player character, and a simple interface that doesn't get in the way of the game.
The Moment of Silence is the story of Peter Wright--a fairly simple everyman with a moderately dreary and lonely life, living in a futuristic version of New York City. Peter lives on the 23rd floor of a downtown apartment complex, working as a communications designer. One day Peter watches through his cracked door as a very mean-looking SWAT team breaks into his neighbor's apartment and violently drags off the man of the home--as his wife and child helplessly protest. Peter is haunted by what he's seen, and the story takes off from there. This sequence takes place in one of the most effective and riveting opening cutscenes I have seen in a very long time.
Though I realize that in the time I have had with this build I haven't begun to scratch the surface of the story, I am already enamored with the way it is building--small details being revealed, little clues left here and there, comments from our character that give us insight into his evolving personality. One point of relief is that, unlike in Syberia, our main character can examine items in his surroundings, and tell us his thoughts on them. It is good to know that House of Tales realizes what an essential window into a character's personality this element gives us. The interface is a very standard "left click to interact, right click to examine," with an inventory bar at the bottom of the screen. Conversations are accomplished through typical dialogue trees. I can't comment on the voice acting yet (as the voices in my preview build are German).
Though the story of Moment of Silence appears to draw heavily on the Big Brother theme, director Martin Ganteföhr has emphasized that the story will focus more on the subtleties of such a state, the "hidden mechanisms of control and power." There's no question that in both the tone of the story and the method of framing the narrative, so far I am very strongly reminded of Beneath a Steel Sky (which just happens to be my personal favorite adventure game of all-time), except without the witty sidekick--which some may definitely see as a positive! I think I can safely say that fans of BASS, as well as other darker story-driven adventures such as Gabriel Knight and Blade Runner, have something very exciting on their hands here, and those who can't stomach any more cute, cel-shaded madness should put this game at the top of their wish list.
The Moment of Silence will be released by Digital Jesters in the UK and other European territories on November 5th. A North American publishing agreement is not yet in place--but with a game of this quality, it seems to be inevitable. Keep watching Adventure Gamers next month for some exciting coverage when The Moment of Silence hits shelves!