Review for Goetia
Adventure Gamers Awards
Sushee’s first foray into point-and-click adventures, the successfully Kickstarted Goetia, is a wonderfully eerie exploration of a small English village abandoned in the early 1940s, as seen through the eyes of a resurrected-in-spirit 12-year-old girl named Abigail Blackwood. Abigail died 40 years earlier, accidentally falling out of a window in her family’s manor, and has now been brought back (by what or by whom you don’t exactly know) to unravel the secrets of what has happened to her family and the village in her absence. The resulting investigation is thoroughly engrossing, an incredible supernatural mystery that won’t let you rest until you’ve gotten to the bottom of it all.
The plot of Goetia is very obscure at first, and plays out in an abstract manner. You’re given very few details, other than your name and the fact that you were the daughter of a prestigious, if a little odd, family living on the outskirts of Oakmarsh in England around the turn of the 20th century. Oh, and now you’re dead. Not a traditional ghost, Abigail is shown as a small, white ball of light that you direct around the screen, but she still has her mental faculties and is surprisingly astute for a young girl brought back to a time and place that are entirely foreign from what she remembers.
So what happened to Blackwood Manor? Why is Oakmarsh abandoned? Where did all the people go? You, as Abigail, set out to unravel these mysteries, mainly by piecing together hints and clues from various books and journal entries left around the various locations. Every scrap of paper brings you another step closer to figuring out what went on. Additionally, you meet Malphas, a demon who has been locked inside the walls of Blackwood Manor by your sister Annie. Abigail’s curiosity overrides discretion as she sets out to free Malphas and the five other demons that are similarly trapped inside the family home, and along the way she gradually uncovers a dark history to her family legacy.
While Goetia is heavy on backstory, it’s extremely light on characters. The village, manor, and all outlying regions are completely deserted, and the only character that has any significant dialogue with Abigail is Malphas. Fortunately, Abigail keeps up a running commentary throughout the game, most of which serves as veiled hints as to what you should do next, if you know how to interpret them properly. Abigail takes every discovery in stride, despite having to deal with the concepts of her own childhood mortality, the death of everyone she’s ever loved, the existence of demons, and the devastating aftermath of World War II. The other main characters in the tale, Abigail’s father, her older sister Annie and Annie’s four sons, are only glimpsed through the writings they have left behind. Nonetheless, they are all nicely fleshed out and given personalities and motives integral to the plot.
Abigail herself is an intriguing and immensely sympathetic protagonist. She’s curious and honest, the perfect vessel through which the player observes the mystery as it unfolds. Malphas, on the other hand, is enigmatic and infuriating at times, never revealing even a fraction of what he knows to Abigail, despite seemingly being on her side. His attitude is very much one of a god amused by a human plaything, and it’s easy to feel as though he is toying with you through most of your encounters.
The gameplay of Goetia is very easy to grasp. You left-click to move somewhere in the side-scrolling world, and on specific objects to use them. Some hotspots will glow when you move your mouse over them; other times you’ll just have to guess or use the hotspot highlighter. Once you’ve clicked on an interactive item, you have the option to look at it or, if possible, either use it or possess it. Possessing an object causes Abigail’s spectral ball to fly inside it, which then becomes your cursor instead and can be moved around the screen at will. It’s the only way to move something from location to location, but as possessed objects obey the laws of physics that you so conveniently do not as a ghost, you’ll need to remind yourself for the first little while not to simply try flying through ceilings and instead figure out more creative ways to get where you need to go. For example, early on in the game you need to figure out how to move a hexagonal-shaped key from inside the house to the outside, without opening the front door. And no, windows are not a shortcut; you have to be a bit more creative than that.
While challenging, the puzzles in Goetia are fun and more importantly, they’re clever. Most require possessing objects to complete your tasks, but they also involve deciphering journal hints, figuring out how to open passages and solving a few heinously tricky music puzzles. Luckily for tone-deaf gamers like myself, there are only two such puzzles and the worst one is optional. A few of the puzzles have alternate solutions, depending on whether or not you’ve picked up some of the available ghost powers in the game. This helps ease the difficulty at some points, but the tradeoff is that these powers require you to solve extra puzzles. The number of puzzles overall is astonishing, and every single one of them makes complete sense in context. Is it a little ridiculous that an eccentric family in the middle of England would set up all these conundrums to hide things? Well, yes, but the way the characters are written it’s completely believable and never feels like the puzzles were thrown in solely for the sake of slowing down your progress.
The only downfall of the gameplay is a lack of any hint system. The phrasing of journal notes is usually intended to serve as clues, but it’s not always apparent until after you’ve solved a puzzle and reread the entry. For example, when Abigail needs to overcome an obstacle involving switches on the walls, the correct order to push them is not very intuitive and didn’t elicit the “Aha!” moment until after I’d solved it by trial and error. Certainly Goetia is a hard game, and making the clues more obvious would diminish some of the challenge, but a hint system would have made for a very welcome middle ground. Even without it, finishing the minimum required tasks in order to get the first of two endings is not impossible by any means. To get 100% completion and a different ending, I suggest you hire out a musical prodigy to assist you, preferably for a flat rate rather than by the hour.
The rest of the interface elements are entirely straightforward. Simple keystrokes bring up the journal in which Abigail’s ghost conveniently keeps track of events by writing physical notes, as well as a codex where you can view every readable piece of information you’ve encountered in the game without having to go back to that specific place. The game saves automatically as you go along and always keeps your puzzle progress.
The gorgeous artwork perfectly suits the atmospheric setting. Everywhere you go there is a very ethereal feel created by little details: a painting that doesn’t look quite right, an oddly visual gust of wind milling leaves about, strange symbols that appear on doors and floors to locked areas in the mansion. The lack of any living people or animals definitely ups the spooky factor, creating a frightening sense of isolation. The game is split into five locations: Blackwood Manor, the village of Oakmarsh, the Eldwitch Forest, the Silver Labyrinth and the Fields of Stone. Each location is distinctly different, yet carries the same pervading air of creepiness that varies between complete desertion and the sense that someone or something is watching over your shoulder.
The village of Oakmarsh, though you only explore a handful of buildings, looks and feels exactly like an abandoned WWII village should, with all of the mementos and personal effects left in shops and houses as if the owners simply evaporated. The church deep within Eldwitch Forest feels more like ancient ruins hidden away from the world. The Silver Labyrinth is the most unique aspect of the game, as it actually takes place inside a series of black-and-white photographs that Abigail is able to travel through as a consequence of her nephew Gabriel experimenting with dark magic. The Fields of Stone are a disturbingly creepy excavation site that is directly underneath the manor and contains a shrine to Abigail. But my personal favorite location was the manor itself, divided into a multitude of areas that unlock as you progress. From bedrooms to the kitchen to an astronomy tower and library, the mansion is enormous and is easy to get lost in, which is exactly what makes it so fun to explore.
While Goetia does not contain any cutscenes, the in-game animation is top-notch. Malphas is represented by a gigantic bird’s head that occasionally comes down out of the ceiling to talk to Abigail, but doesn’t look demonic so much as avian. There are also several background animations that eerily contrast the otherwise dead environments, like shaking tree branches, a trapped face in a stone wall in the Eldwitch forest, and flickering lights. The stylized realism of the artwork displays an excellent feel for the era as well. Every detail is thought out and placed with intent, giving you valuable insight into the sort of people who lived there if you’re careful enough to observe everything.
Goetia features no voice acting and very few interactive sounds in the game, which means that most of the ambience is provided by the melodious background music. However, this minimalist approach works well since you are a ghost and are very much alone most of the time, the silence actually contributing to the spooky feel of the game. Sound effects are used sparingly but to great effect, such as the cawing sound when the bird-like Malphas talks and the flash noises when using a camera in one of the puzzles. The soundtrack ranges from progressive rock to haunting scores, and each of the five locations has its own distinct music, sometimes changing for specific rooms. The tracks are interesting and varied, though no one song particularly stands out above the rest.
Taking your time to thoroughly explore is an incredible experience overall that can easily take between 15 to 20 hours all told, culminating in an absolutely fantastic ending. My only real complaints are the lack of hint system to balance out some overly obscure clues, and two music puzzles that up the difficulty considerably. These are minor issues, though, as otherwise Goetia is a masterpiece of Gothic horror, with an intricate plot, a compelling protagonist, beautiful scenery, clever puzzles and a creepy soundtrack. For anyone looking for a haunting and thoughtful challenge, Goetia is for you.