Aside from the excellent space thriller Stasis it’s been a while since I’ve played a decent point and click adventure game. It’s not that they’ve been of lacking quality or anything like that, it’s just that there are so few of them coming out lately. Publishers seem to consider it a dead genre (like they did horror games a few years back and look at how that turned out) and to some extent they do have very limited appeal. As always, it’s up to indie studios to give us aficionados our fix and indie developer Sushee (publishing under the Square Enix Collective label) is here to serve with Goetia.
Goetia: Windows PC [Reviewed], Mac OS X
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Release Date: 14 April 2016
Price: 14,99€ [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Goetia – Our dearly departed
The game starts off abruptly and without any sort of hand-holding, partly because there are no hands to hold. You are the disembodied spirit of Abigail Blackwood: a young girl from a wealthy family that grew up in Victorian/Edwardian England and died very young. You soon find out that it is now approximately 40 years later and the Second World War is well underway. Your quest begins to find out what happened to you and your family, as your childhood home is now abandoned and entire sections of it are inaccessible and warded with runes that prevent your incorporeal form to pass through walls or doors.
As a ghost (which Abigail takes her sweet time figuring out she is) you can pass through most walls and doors and interact with certain objects in a limited manner. Additionally, you can possess small objects and carry them throughout Blackwood Manor and the surrounding area in order to poltergeist your way through puzzles. As the game progresses you unlock additional abilities which in turn snowball into making formerly unavailable locations and actions accessible.
It is not long before you start delving into your family history through various journals, notes and letters and find out that the name Goetia (referring to the practice of summoning supernatural beings such as demons) is more than appropriate. Each set of runes that blocks access to various areas is a ward trapping a demon in our world and you are tasked (or rather task yourself) with banishing them back to where they came from. These are not, however, all your horned and cloven hoofed hellspawn. They take on different appearances and personalities with some opting for a friendlier, more charismatic approach in order to get you to help them.
I found a lot of Goetia‘s visual style to be reminiscent in tone of the works of Edward Gorey. They are not so wantonly crude, quite the opposite: each of the many many rooms in the Blackwood Manor and surroundings are packed with either lavish details or an overbearing lack thereof. It presents itself in unsaturated colours, tones of grays and browns, cobwebs and dust to an astounding visual outcome.
The atmosphere is further punctuated by the subtle melancholic soundtrack and the occasional startling sound effect, such as creaking doors or bumps in the night. They never come from out of nowhere. In fact many times you are the cause of the thing that startles you. But Goetia doesn’t struggle to instill terror or even dread in the player. All it ever tries (and succeeds admirably at) is suspense.
The backstory is told through a plethora of notes (seriously, you had better be into reading if you want to play this game) and uncovers the Blackwood family’s history piece by piece, while also providing you with hints to solve the various riddles and puzzles and let me just say that you’d better pay attention to every. single. damned. word. This is one of the game’s better and at the same time worst parts. Puzzles are not so reliant on pixel hunting and actually have you looking for clues in written notes. The problem is that once you learn that some details are important, you become paranoid and start memorizing useless information. It doesn’t help that some puzzles seem to just be puzzles for puzzles’ sake and are poorly contextualized within the game world, such as a map where you have to map childhood memories in order, but the order is hinted at on a nearby century-old tombstone.
Another problem that I’m always loathe to bring up when talking about small studios that lack resources is the lack of voice acting. It doesn’t bother me personally to read pages upon pages of text, but having a voice over narration would not only have helped with my attention span, but also with forming a deeper connection with Abigail.
While definitely flawed and lacking in some areas, Goetia is a very competent point and click adventure with a terrific atmosphere and a well-designed puzzle difficulty curve. Some areas are particularly interesting in design and the sheer size of it is impressive. You’re free to explore the world mostly without being constrained during the mid-game and most importantly it shows a lot of heart. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the genre.