The Whispered World Review (PC)

All too often characterised by forced joviality and irony-laden dialogue, modern point and click adventure gaming very rarely steps outside of that well-worn thematic trench of in-jokes and fourth-wall breaking references. The Whispered World, whilst still walking a similar path, at the very least peaks its head above the rim and crafts its tale around a protagonist on a collision course to end the world rather than save it. Laconic and abundantly atmospheric, the result is a title with more than its share of charm.

Taking the lead as depressed circus clown Sadwick, your immediate goal is to escape a life of misery and boredom travelling the land in a tiny caravan with a cruel older brother, strange worm-like pet and deranged grandfather for company. Stumbling into the woods after a few opening puzzles, Sadwick swiftly encounters an oracle that describes his destructive role in the downfall of humanity; and with that knowledge safely hidden away out of sight of others, we're off on an adventure tinged with melancholy and fantastic one-liners.

Sadwick: A confused circus performer and harbinger of doom.
The firey beast is Spot: Your companion throughout the adventure.

With an interface that mimics the likes of Full Throttle, Whispered World plays out in a traditional mouse-sweeping style. Items are sought and combined, characters reveal new interaction mechanisms only after probing their relevant dialogue trees, and there are more than a few puzzle situations that reek of past conquests. The solutions, on the whole, are mostly logical, but sticking rigidly to the formula as it does, there are a few that'll leave you wondering how the developer possibly reached the conclusions they did.

Perhaps the largest departure comes in the form of your insectoid companion, Spot. Introduced to one of his particular foibles early in the game, Spot can change shape to make himself small and slender, large and bloated, or alternatively shape-shift into various forms that allow for elemental and non-elemental interactions with the environment. The puzzles involving Spot are some of the more challenging and obtuse moments in Whispered World, and whilst they often replace having relevant items to hand, the addition of an accompanying sidekick is a good one.

And for all the hit-and-miss nature of the puzzling, this Whispered World is one that you'll be driven to explore thanks to some achingly beautiful artwork. Hand-painted and hand-animated, it's no overstatement to say that certain scenes could easily fit within the realms of a Disney or Miyazaki film, albeit with a distinct Western folklore style. Character movement and interaction is fluid, blending well with the background and hardly ever breaking the illusion of a singular cohesive location. The 'painting come to life' cliché has never been more apt than here.

This may seem like a familiar puzzle, and it is.
Hand-painted backgrounds add fantastic atmosphere.

But having spent all that time on producing fantastic artwork, it's a shame for the atmosphere to be ruined by poor voice acting. The supporting characters are all well-cast and fairly talented, so quite how Sadwick's voice ended up this misguided is a mystery. His nasal screechings and poor delivery proves a heavy distraction from a well-written script, so it's no small mercy to discover an option to play with only subtitles and music. Missing out on the rest of the cast is a heavy price to pay, and there are some jokes that simply work a lot better delivered aurally, but it's worth it for the long haul.

And a long haul it is, despite the relatively low price of the boxed copy and Steam release. There is more than enough content here to keep avid adventure and puzzle gurus occupied, and whilst the critical success of The Whispered World hangs in the balance due to traditional difficulty spikes and badly-excuted vocal work, it more than warrants a cursory investigation by anybody with a weekend to spare.

Best Game Moment: Figuring out that you can toggle the voice acting to 'off'

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