The Silent Age
There are all kinds of "free" adventures available on the App Store. Some are merely first-taste samplers that ask for in-game payments to see the rest of the game; some are simple room-escape puzzlers that are quickly and easily completed; and of course there are numerous "lite" games, which is just iOS-speak for "demos". The Silent Age, by indie Danish developer House on Fire, is none of those. True, what's been released so far is just "Episode One" of a planned two- or three-part series, but the debut installment is a compelling and surprisingly lengthy (clocking in at roughly 90 minutes) adventure in its own right, with an optional donation request to see more down the road.
The game is set in 1972 – or at least, part of it is. Thick 'burns and bushy 'staches are in, gaudy orange wallpaper is all the rage, and polyester bell-bottomed pants are still "groovy". Enter an average (and appropriately named) Joe, a jumpsuit-wearing custodian of a hi-tech research company – "hi-tech" in an era consisting of giant black-and-white super-computer monitors and wall-sized mainframes that would have made Gene Roddenberry proud. Joe's life – and the fate of the entire world – takes a turn for the surreal when a trail of blood at work leads to a dying elderly man claiming to have traveled back in time to prevent a cataclysmic-level event from occurring. Handing over a portable time travel device, the man expends his final breath exhorting Joe to travel 40 years ahead to warn the man's future (past?) self of his own impending death. By doing so, he can avoid the unanticipated tragedy and carry out his mission as planned.
Oddly, the future suggests human existence is destined to end that very same day in 1972. Partially-decayed corpses are (were) the same people Joe encountered in the past (present). Plant life continues to grow, as the police station is now overrun by a giant tree in its midst, and a poison ivy vine snakes up the side of the nearby hotel. But everyone is dead, including one poor soul dangling from the end of a rope. Like Joe, you'll be wondering what on earth went wrong, but there are no easy answers forthcoming just yet. Instead, Joe must alternate back and forth between his time and the future in order to overcome the variety of environmental obstacles that confront him.
A third-person adventure that makes good use of both vertical and horizontal spaces (in both timelines), The Silent Age has a bit of Another World aesthetic vibe. There are no action sequences, and the artwork is more detailed than Eric Chahi's 1991 classic, but the backgrounds are kept simple and clean, with just a touch of animation like falling rain and flickering neon lights as you make your way to the local hospital. Call it stylishly functional, with enough detail to bring these two worlds to life (such as "life" is in the future) but never so much that it clutters the screens. That makes it a perfect fit for iOS platforms. I only played it on the iPad, but there's no reason why the game would look or perform any worse on a smaller screen. Control is a simple one-touch system: if it's a hotspot, Joe will interact with it if he can; if not, he'll walk to where you've pointed (or run with a double-tap).
Puzzles are strictly inventory-based and generally intuitive: You'll need keys for locks, oil for rusty objects, and a lighter to spark a fire, among other useful items. That makes the game sound easy, but it's the strategic use of time-shifting that gives The Silent Age a welcome layer of complexity. Actions in the past usually have an effect on the future, and by the end you'll be switching back and forth virtually room-by-room. There are no real head-scratchers, but there's just enough challenge to continually motivate further exploration, which is the game's real reward. These are dual worlds you'll want to inspect fully in order to piece together their bizarrely-linked apocalyptic mystery.
But you won't. At least, not yet. And whether you ever will may depend on whether you're willing to pay for the privilege. Like with this debut installment, House on Fire's intention is to offer the next episode free as well, but they're seeking public financial assistance to make that happen. Taking a more informal approach than Kickstarter, the developers are accepting donations in order to continue the series. There's no obligation required, but whether you play the iPhone / iPod touch or iPad version, don't be surprised if you find yourself coughing up a few dollars in support. Although its protagonist is perhaps a little too glib for the extraordinary circumstances he finds himself in, and it's a little too true to its name (with no voice acting, and only sparse atmospheric music and effects), The Silent Age is nice to look at, easy to control, reasonably lengthy and fun to play. What more can you ask, except for more of the same? And if that's what you want, the future is in your hands.Continued on the next page...