There's no voice work, though. Joe communicates via messages that drop down from the top of the screen, while the (relatively few) conversations use a small pop-up window. This works well enough, but while conversations require you to tap a "forward" button to advance through them, Joe's alerts simply appear and disappear on their own schedule. There's plenty of time to read them, but I'd often finish one well before it disappeared and carry on playing, only to realise that he had more to say. All too frequently, I wouldn't get to find out what that was because by that time I'd tapped on an item, making the rest of his musings disappear, replaced by his opinion of the new object. It felt like I was being rude and interrupting him all the time, so I eventually took to waiting patiently to be sure that he was finished before moving on. It's all very much in keeping with his slow, lugubrious character, but it could be frustrating at times.
Gameplay-wise, The Silent Age gets a lot of mileage out of Joe's time device. More often than not, it's just used to get you past an obstacle. Door blocking your way? Just jump forward in time and it'll be hanging off its hinges. Missing an item you need? Check the other time zone. The few times I got stuck, it was generally due to that last one: I'd failed to check all possible locations in both time zones and missed a crucial object. On the other hand, every so often you have to stop and think more carefully about the consequences of all your time travelling: how will the changes I make in the past affect the future? Can I swap an impossible problem in the future for a more manageable one in the past? For example, one puzzle involving some poison ivy almost had me stumped until I realised I needed to take a step back. My personal favourite, though, came when I needed to scrounge up an apple but all I had was an apple core; solving that one really required thinking fourth-dimensionally, but putting all the pieces together gave me a warm glow of satisfaction. I just wish there were more such moments.
Aside from the time travelling, gameplay consists entirely of inventory puzzles, and since you can't combine items (at least, not in your inventory) it's difficult to get too stuck. Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of pixel hunting required at times, which can be particularly problematic if you're playing on a phone rather than a tablet. The graphics, as lovely as they are, don't help with this: only a few objects in each scene can generally be interacted with but (particularly in the future locations) there can be a lot of decorative clutter. Once or twice, I mistook a vital item for part of the scenery.
The interface is very simple and streamlined: just an inventory bar at the bottom of the screen. Tapping on an object examines it or picks it up, and using it is a matter of tapping on the item in your inventory and then on the object you want to use it with. Similarly, tap somewhere to walk there or double-tap to run. There's no explicit save mechanism – you can either pick up where you left off or restart the current chapter from the main menu – so that's it. Given the pixel hunting issues, it would have been nice to have a hotspot highlighter, but other than that it's nice and intuitive. If I'm being picky, quick travel would also have been handy: you spend quite a bit of time traipsing around the place, especially with the time-hopping back and forth to navigate obstacles.
The one real shortcoming is the plot. Overall, it's solidly-written, but after laying out the scenario in the first chapter of the first episode, Joe spends the rest of that episode and the first half of the next just trying to get from place to place. It's only in the last quarter of the game that the plot kicks back into high gear again. Considering that you're racing to prevent the end of the world, all that time spent puzzling your way past one barrier after another feels a little bland, narratively speaking. Of course, many quest-type stories (e.g. The Lord of the Rings) are built around an extended journey and all that time in the broken future does help you get a powerful sense of just how badly wrong everything has gone. It's just that I'd have preferred more of a steady drip-feed rather than having everything be wrapped up in a rush at the end.
That said, when it does get going again it really makes the most of its time travel premise. I had some lovely moments of realisation as later events suddenly shone a light on small and apparently-disconnected details from the early stages of the first episode, and the final plot revelation is a doozy. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming, but I didn't and it led to a surprisingly emotional moment. If I have one gripe, it's that the finale, having arrived at a natural end point, carries on into a slightly underwhelming epilogue. It's not bad as such, subverting expectations and fitting well with Joe's character, but after the drama that went before, it felt a little flat.
Considering the two episodes as a whole, The Silent Age is a satisfying sci-fi tale. Nicely presented and atmospheric throughout, it may drag a bit in the middle but it begins strongly and ends on a high. It's not excessively long (the first episode took me about an hour and a half to finish, while the second was a bit longer at a little over two hours) but it's enjoyable while it lasts. If I finished it wishing that it had spun out its core story with more convolutions and twists, that's only because it left me wanting to spend more time with Joe and his world. Especially given that the first episode is free, it's easy to recommend that you spend a few dollars and some quiet time with The Silent Age.
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What our readers think of The Silent Age
Posted by Pegbiter on Mar 20, 2015
Well polished bagatelleThis is a rather short game with stylish graphics and a fairly nice science fiction plot. The difficulty level is unfortunately as low as they come, with always just one... Read the review »
Posted by fanatic4hockey on Aug 13, 2014
Surprisingly great!I enjoyed the simplicity of this game and its original time traveling theme. When is the next episode schedule to be deployed?... Read the review »
Posted by Melanie68 on Feb 10, 2014