Friday, February 25, 2022

Sixty Minutes With Albert Wilde: Quantum P.I.

I seem to have lurched from hardly being able to think of anything to write about at all to having a whole slew of ideas that can only be expressed in epic form. I just ran the last weeks' worth of posts through a word-counter and it came to more than seventeen thousand. That's ridiculous!

I have several more posts in mind that I know are going to go long but I'm going to sit on them for a while. If I leave it long enough, with luck I might forget about them altogether. 

I'm working all weekend, which will stem the flood in any event but I would like to spend today doing something other than writing, just for a change, so I'm going to limit myself to a review of a single demo from the Steam Next Fest

Seriously? You're going to review one demo? Is that a valid use of valuable resources?

Probably not but I'm gonna, anyway. I took some screenshots and I'm going use them, damn it!

The game in question, as must be obvious already to anyone who read my last Next Fest post, is Albert Wilde: Quantum P.I. Steam says I played it for two hours but Steam's easily fooled. In truth, I played for about half an hour, took an hour out to have tea and watch Eggheads with Mrs. Bhagpuss, like every other nearly-retired couple in England, then played for thirty minutes more. 

The demo lasts about sixty minutes or at least that's how long it lasted for me. I guess I might have missed something but I don't think so. Despite a strong warning at the start about how early-development the build is, it seemed very stable. I didn't encounter any bugs, glitches or problems at any point.

The demo also very helpfully tells you there's no option to save your progress. I wish all developers would exhibit a similar duty of care. That's why I left it running while I had tea, something the demo didn't seem to mind at all. I've known plenty of games to freeze and need a restart in similar circumstances but not this one.

The first thing the demo asks you to do is tell it whether you're using a controller or keyboard and mouse. I'm not sure why they even bothered with the keyboard. You could play this thing with one finger.

That's not a criticism. It's a recommendation. I loved the controls. They were super-simple, wholly intuitive and extremely comfortable to use. WASD to move, mouselook to turn, space bar to interact, cursor keys to select dialog options. Which, as I said, could be reduced even further to LMB/RMB and mouse-wheel to scroll. Then you could hold a drink in your other hand while you played.

I liked the controls and I liked the look. This is a great-looking game, provided you like watching shows from the dawn of the television era - grainy, shaky, out of focus, black and white...

That's how it struck me, although I suspect the look the art team was actually going for was more early talkies movie serial. The game's set in the prohibition era and that ended in 1933 so TV hadn't really got going yet. Then again, there were very few cats working as private investigators during the real prohibition, let alone deer in the police force or pigs practicing law (Insert your own joke here.) so the timeline's already corrupt.

The environmental art is so effective I spent longer than I should have trying to work out if it was heavily treated real-world video or computer graphics. It's the latter, of course, as is obvious from the indoor scenes, but some of the alleys and broken-down warehouse settings are very convincing.

The dialog is solid, too, or it is when it allows itself to be. There are some lengthy conversations between Albert and various people he already knows that have the authentic feel of long familiarity between old friends or at least acquaintances. 

When the writers try to be funny, though, things don't always go so well. I get that jokes about animals behaving like humans are a trope of these kinds of games but gags about licking your own butt get old fast. To have three or four of those in a sixty minute demo shows lack of judgment as well as lack of taste. Even the six nipples joke, which I hadn't heard before and thought was quite funny, doesn't work a second time.

There are also altogether too many metatextual winks and nods and I say that as someone who usually can't get enough post-post modern self-referentialism. If you're going to keep banging them in, they need to be sharper or smarter of preferably both.

Soundwise, the demo scores some points. Albert's thoughts get a prototypical noir voiceover that's not at all bad. The guy doing the voicework has a deep, growling timbre that works for both a PI and a cat and his line readings are fine. 

The music, something the promotional material makes much of, is okay but no more. It's the expected jazz-adjacent noodling every game like this always goes with. I wouldn't turn it down but I didn't really find myself noticing it much, either.

Gameplay in the demo is about as minimal as I've ever seen in one of these things. Anything you can examine is highlighted by a yellow dot. You can click on those and get a description. If it's interactable, it's underlined and you hold down the space bar to fill in the line. That sounds a little odd but I really liked it. It had a nice tactility to it that weirdly made just clicking on things feel pleasurable.

You can take things, although very rarely. There's no inventory in the traditional adventure game sense. On the very odd occasions the game allows you to pick something up it just adds a shadow icon to the left border so that, should you need to use it at any point, the game knows you have it ready.

The plot revolves around a murder, which seems to have some paranormal element to it, although with a setting like this it's honestly hard to tell what's supposed to be in-game "normal", which is presumably why all the characters have to keep telling each other exactly what's "weird" and what's not. Personally, I found the fact that every character wears clothes except the witness who found the body pretty weird. He's a flamingo and a professional dancer (It's a big plot point.) but if either of those is relevant to his state of undress it's not explained. 

Maybe birds go around naked in this world and no-one cares or maybe it's just dancers. It can't be dance teachers, though, because we meet one of those and she's fully dressed. Then again, she's a cow.

All in all, I felt it was an hour well spent. About the only even remotely original thing about Albert Wild: Quantum P.I., at least as revealed in the demo, is what it looks like. Everything else is extremely familiar from any number of other anthropomorphic noirs but I suppose that's like saying when you watch a tennis match all people keep doing is hitting the ball across the net. That said, I can't remember ever having had to convince a witness to talk to me by demonstrating my interpretive dance skills before...

I liked it enough to wishlist it, anyway. It is, as they said, a very early build but it shows a lot of promise. By far the weakest spot is the humor (Geez. Look who's talking.) but even that's not bad, just a little overdone. I did laugh a couple of times, if not very hard or loud.

One down, six to go. And that was only twelve hundred words. Getting there!


  1. Okay, I laughed out loud and got coffee up my nose when I read "All six of my nipples are tingling."

  2. Ok I need to investigate this one for myself, I think.


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