Review for Children of Silentown
Imagine, if you can, a spooky village nestled on the edge of a vast and foreboding forest, a forest steeped in local folklore and the subject of terrifying stories of abductions by unknown monsters. The village, somewhat forebodingly known as Silentown, is the setting for this stylish hybrid point-and-click adventure and mini-puzzle game from Italian developers Luna2 and Elf Games.
The player takes control of a teenage girl named Lucy, one of the titular children of Silentown, who finds herself drawn into the conspiracy first hand when one of her family members goes missing. The impenetrable secrecy surrounding the disappearance awakens Lucy’s sense of justice, and the village-wide intrigue begins to haunt her thoughts and dreams. Through a veil of personal sadness, she becomes determined not only to find her missing relative but to solve the mystery of Silentown once and for all.
What first draws the player into Children of Silentown are undoubtedly the beautifully stylized hand-drawn graphics, particularly the somehow innocent and yet disconcertingly vacant eyes of the characters. Do these empty, black-rimmed windows on the soul somehow reference the sense of loss felt by the community, or do they hint at deeper, more sinister characteristics?
Lucy’s family are notably odd from the outset. Her mother is cautious but aloof, constantly asking Lucy to carry out pointless tasks, although she clearly loves her daughter very much. Her father is strict and secretive and seems to have little time for Lucy, at least to begin with. In addition, there is a family cat who only really gets in Lucy’s way, although she seems to be attached to him.
Other villagers you meet are also weird in a slightly clichéd way. You’ll encounter an older man who travels around fixing anything that's broken, a group of children with a bully who refuses to let Lucy join their circle of friends, and an enigmatic elderly lady with a peculiar obsession with rules. Her line: "Rules protect us. Those who don't respect them find themselves gone. For good." This seems quite harsh, given what has happened to her family.
The process the player must follow in order to help Lucy navigate her investigation involves a mixture of traditional point-and-click object-based puzzles, and different mini-games requiring finding a route through a maze or linking two sides of a board. The point-and-click element still makes up the majority of the game, and includes a large portion of character dialogue to read and analyse.
What is interesting is that if Lucy finds herself hitting a wall when questioning certain characters, she can sing a short song to them - it’s a talent of hers apparently - which opens up a mini-game, allowing her to delve into their thoughts. The songs must first be pieced together by examining the village environment to find the correct notes. Once a song has been ‘assembled’, Lucy writes it down and can use it like a key to open up the mini-games.
These challenges are themed to attempt to tie them in with the story, such as representing a thread sewing two halves of a ‘broken’ memory back together. Solving them allows you to learn more about some of the characters by magically revealing further details of their thoughts and memories, which is a little bit like eavesdropping. At times Lucy has the choice whether or not to use the things she discovers.
This makes the game sound more complex than it is, but the process actually happens quite naturally during gameplay. The mini-games are fun and are consistent with the flow of puzzle-solving. However, they certainly take the game out of the realm of a more traditional point-and-click adventure, and some players may not appreciate the departure from tradition.
The object-based puzzles themselves are fairly good even if they probably wouldn’t win any awards for originality. However, there can be more than one way to bring about a solution. One such example requires you to interrupt a game of go-karting: you can either do it by recklessly breaking one of the wheels, or by informing a grown-up who will take the situation into their own hands. This level of detail is nice to see.
The balance of difficulty for all types of puzzles in the game is on the easier side, depending on your experience. There can be much wandering around looking for the next link in the chain of progression, especially in the village. The dialogue that accompanies the puzzles is on the good side of acceptable. It is charming and amusing but can be quite bland for long periods. None of the characters are particularly interesting, although none are badly represented.
Graphics are generally of a high quality and really nicely put together, with layers of texture and interest. Although the village is rendered in pale tones and attractive, it can become a little samey, but the graphics improve as the game progresses and the design becomes darker, with bolder colours and even more depth. The many cutscenes are very well-integrated into the presentation and add intrigue and - at times - a bit of terror!
Generic new-age style piano music plays throughout the game. Although it suits the melancholy mood, during the long playtime experienced in the village, I found the handful of tunes repetitive.
One of the primary drawbacks of the game is that it keeps Lucy in the village for an extended duration. It isn't until almost the last quarter of the game that she decides to explore the forest. While it may make sense from a plot standpoint for Lucy to collect evidence, it results in the player revisiting the same few screens and gathering information from the same characters, leading to an arduous and occasionally tedious experience. After several hours, I found myself yearning to enter the forest, if only to take a break from the never-ending piano music.
Children of Silentown has charming graphics and enjoyable gameplay, and the mystery keeps players engaged. The overarching question of what exactly the monsters are drives the story, making it a shame that, at times, the pacing feels hindered by prolonged sub-quests. These tasks can feel unnecessarily extended and artificially prolong the experience, somewhat diminishing the game's potential.