Ah, remember the good old days in the second half of the 90s when puzzle adventures were equal in popularity and profile to FPS, RTS, RPGs, platformers and everything else. Gamers were spoilt for choice as publishers released anything and everything. Leap forward two decades and while today’s AAA studios insist all players will be happy in the video game equivalent of an open-plan office, it’s the indie developers who have stepped up to provide that diversity of yesteryear.
So here we have brand-new point-and-click adventure – and Kickstarter success story – Trüberbrook from German studio btf. Trüberbrook is as old school as they come, heavily reminiscent of the LucasArts era of puzzle adventures. Think Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, The Dig and Monkey Island. You know, those types of games where you have to examine a manhole cover to find a piece of gum that, when combined with a fishing rod and a statically-charged squirrel, will help you fish out a key from a museum vase on the other side of the planet. For better or worse, this is the primary form of puzzle-solving in Trüberbrook, and failure to master its twisted logic can see your playtime pass the upper limits of this 6-to-8-hour game.
Trüberbrook’s retro sensibilities come through in other areas as well. Although it has definite comedic leanings – there’s a running joke about a massage rod – the game is primarily positioned as a sci-fi mystery, inspired by the likes of The X-Files, Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone, Stranger Things and the work of Stephen King.
For the record, Trüberbrook is set during the late 60s in Cold War Germany. Apart from the prologue, you play as American Hans Tannhauser, a twentysomething quantum physicist who arrives in the dying rural village of Trüberbrook, having won a competition he doesn’t recall entering. Tannhauser is eager for adventure and he gets his wish almost immediately when he wakes up in his rather dodgy guesthouse to find a stranger stealing his research. To get it back he must team up with prickly anthropologist Gretchen, who has her own reasons for heading up into Trüberbrook’s mountains to locate an old, abandoned mine with a notorious reputation.
In keeping with the game’s genre traditions, every step of mystery-unravelling means interacting with the quirky, body-diverse inhabitants of Trüberbrook. These include the likes of a geriatric war veteran who can’t overcome the disappointment of a wobbly table, a hefty female guesthouse owner full of useful information, and tattooed sisters who have structured their boat hire business around Trüberbrook’s reported lake monster. It’s always fun meeting a new oddball in this world.
While Trüberbrook has strong retro sensibilities, these don’t extend to the use of a pixel art style. What the player finds instead are gorgeous, hyper-detailed environments that actually began life as hand-built miniature sets before they were digitised. Even if you don’t know this piece of behind-the-scenes trivia, you feel the difference. The effect is an earthy-toned, slightly-rundown aesthetic reminiscent of Wes Anderson that keeps you engaged. Combined with an elegant and unobtrusive UI, Trüberbrook invites exploration. Towards the end of the game, you even gain the ability to fast-travel between all the locations on the map – a welcome feature as you do eventually tire of traipsing back and forth.
Visually, Trüberbrook is standout. It’s your number one reason for playing the game. The throwback gameplay is also well-handled and fluid. What lets Trüberbrook down, though, is its story. It eventually runs out of steam and leaves loads of unanswered questions. You could argue this is in keeping with its narrative inspirations – red herrings and inconsistent universe lore are default in mystery sci-fi – but when the game is so good at enticing you visually, it’s disappointing to reach a half-baked ending that flings you back into reality unsatisfied.
It’s not the last response players want to be left with either, as it undoes a lot of the goodwill developed up to that point. Perhaps it will encourage some gamers to replay the game in pursuit of buried explanations but the default reaction is probably going to be disappointment. What a pity. Trüberbook is available now for PC. It hits consoles, including the Switch, on 17 April.
Last Updated: March 13, 2019