Review

The Novelist Review

  • Game release: December 10, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Family matters.

Things are never as simple as they should be. The Kaplans have come to a secluded house in the Pacific Northwest for a summer getaway--a chance for Dan to focus on his book, for Linda to reignite her painting career, for the two of them to work on their marriage, and for their son Tommy to make some progress in coping with his learning difficulties. That's an awful lot for a family to tackle over the course of a single summer, and as it turns out, for the Kaplans as for many real families, not everyone can have all their needs met all the time.

The Novelist doesn't hold together as well as you'd hope, but the challenging situations the Kaplans find themselves in, and the burden of having to decide how the Kaplans respond to those challenges, make it a gripping game that causes you to reflect on the often-competing forces that are at play in our real-world relationships, and the difficulty (if not the impossibility) of finding a successful balance that's fair to everyone involved.

At the end of each chapter, you see the consequences of your decision.

You impact the lives of the Kaplans not as a member of the family, but as a ghostly presence who inhabits the house they've rented for the summer. There are two difficulty settings in The Novelist, "stealth" and "story." If you select stealth, you can be seen by the Kaplans as they wander about the house, and spooking a family member limits your options in that chapter where he or she is concerned. But it's easy to avoid being seen given your ability to zip from light source to light source, a speedy and fun way to navigate the two floors and multiple rooms of the house. If you choose story, the gameplay is exactly the same, only without any need to worry about spooking the Kaplans; you can wander the house openly. The Novelist isn't a game about moment-to-moment gameplay but rather about the impact of decisions over time, so the choice of whether to play in stealth or story mode is ultimately the least meaningful decision you have to make in the game.

In The Novelist as in life, disappointment is inevitable.

The much more interesting decisions start confronting you immediately. In each chapter, you explore the house looking for clues to the current desires of each family member. These can be letters Linda has written to her sister, sketches Tommy has drawn, notes Dan has scrawled about the book, and the like. At one point, Dan is feeling pressure from his publisher to get some chapters submitted on his new book, while Linda really wants to get some quality time with Dan, and Tommy wants his daddy to play with him for a while. In another chapter, Linda's grandmother's funeral is happening at the same time as an opportunity for a public reading that could save Dan's career, and there's an air show that Tommy, feeling lonely at the isolated house, would love to attend.

Tommy is a visual thinker.

Before you can make a choice about what the family should do, you need to both investigate the house for clues, and investigate the memories of the characters. When you approach them from behind, you can zip into their minds and see frozen tableaux in the house of moments that have happened recently. By clicking on the figures, you hear exchanges between them, such as Dan asking Linda, who is gazing longingly out a window, "Is there something out there?" and her responding, "The entire world's out there." But these remembered interactions and solitary moments rarely provide much real insight into the characters; the process of entering memories and witnessing them feels more like a hollow, predictable routine that pads out the game than like actual investigation into the hearts and minds of the characters. However, the written words of Linda and Dan change to reflect decisions you made in the previous chapter, and these are more effective at bringing the characters to life.

After you've completed the investigation routine in each chapter, it's time to make your decision. You can totally fulfill one character's desires and have another character find an unsatisfying compromise for his or her wants, while the third character's desires will go completely unfulfilled in that chapter. I almost always felt conflicted about my decisions, my heart aching for the character whose desires I'd decided to ignore for the moment. And the situations the characters faced made me think about situations in my own life, about how life is a balancing act, how sometimes we need to make sacrifices for the people we care about, or soldier on with work in the midst of personal crises, how not all of our needs can be met all the time. In The Novelist as in life, disappointment is inevitable.

The Novelist isn't immersive; the behaviors of its characters as they wander about the house aren't convincing. You never see them interact with each other in meaningful ways (aside from the frozen moments you see in characters' memories) and you might sometimes see a character walk right through a closed door. The narrative structure also fumbles in its attempts to create an engaging and believable arc. For instance, one chapter might end with Linda tossing a shoe angrily at Dan because of the decisions you made in that chapter, suggesting their relationship is in real trouble. But then the month-end recap that immediately follows and shows how the Kaplans are doing as a result of choices from the past several chapters might have the pair spending a very happy night together at a bed-and-breakfast.

The Novelist's environments aren't terribly detailed but they have a pleasant painterly look.

And it's frustrating that a game about the struggle to find balance in a family is subtly skewed to put more focus on Dan. You always whisper your choice about what the family should do to Dan and Dan alone, as if he, as family patriarch, is single-handedly responsible for the directions the family takes. It's equally disappointing that, while there's a lot of focus on Linda's career throughout the game, in the final summary of how the decisions the Kaplans made that summer affected their future, the game comments on Dan's career, on Dan and Linda's marriage, and on Tommy's future, but not Linda's professional future.

But as a game of ideas, The Novelist works. It's not a challenging game, but the choices you have to make are. I played through the game twice, and was surprised to see how differently things were for the Kaplans in the end based on the different decisions I'd made. When a family member was left struggling or failing in the end because of the choices I'd made, I felt a kind of guilt that moral choices in games rarely make me feel. The Novelist knows that when it comes to the people we love, there are no small decisions.

The Good
Difficult decisions with meaningful consequences
Confronts real-life issues in a way that rings true
The Bad
Gameplay has a predictable routine
Story doesn't always flow smoothly
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Carolyn once entertained notions of being a novelist, but is perhaps more of a playwright at heart. She played through The Novelist twice for this review. It took her about six hours in all.

Discussion

43 comments
sakaixx
sakaixx

somehow reminds me of gone home

ampiva
ampiva

Wow, this really looks like bad. Should have made it a VN, it would have resulted much better.

Hurvl
Hurvl

Hah, that's the first time I see a 10 in the user average score, although, it's only based on 2 user reviews.

Adenosine
Adenosine

I think I'll enjoy this game. It looks like something that's really been worked on, not just a one house first person explorer game where that's all you do. By the way, can you finish this game in 48 seconds like Gone Home?

bbq_R0ADK1LL
bbq_R0ADK1LL

Looks really interesting, but lacking a bit of polish. I'll probably pick it up on a sale.

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

Story-centric games with tons of choice aren't nearly as powerful without voice acting. Half of the industry is still in the silent-movie phase.

Necrotron
Necrotron

Great write-up, I could really visualize what playing the game will be like.  That's too bad the immersion and character interactions aren't as polished or satisfying as they could have been, but the multiple endings and premise make it sound promising enough to pick up.

rawsavon
rawsavon

>"And it's frustrating that a game about the struggle to find balance in a family is subtly skewed to put more focus on Dan... but not Linda's professional future"

Who didn't see these comments coming in the review?

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat @GreenvaleXYZ @snxx @rawsavon @leikeylosh @steter1985

It doesn't make the same repeated message any less tiring.
The more a preacher uses their pulpit for the same sermon, the less of an impact it has.  And, not only that, the preacher runs the risk of turning their patrons against that very message.
Personal views and biases are expected. We all have them, and they permeate everything we say and do.  But they become annoying to others (and even turn people against things they would otherwise support) when that is all a person talks about.

never-named
never-named

Au contraire, it can be even more powerful if the world is built believably enough. Case in point "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" or more recently "Guacamelee"; neither games had any proper voice over but the dialogue for both really shined and I personally found myself giving each character a voice of their own in my mind.

JoeyTrib1550
JoeyTrib1550

Damn her and her own views! Cater to the masses already!



Now a game centered around family issues, particularly the balance between the wants and needs of the family members, really should have the woman's career in mind.


Anyone either married to someone or just together with someone who has their own career as well can definitely relate to that being one of the major balancing acts there is in a relationship.



So yeah, I do think she has a point.

GreenvaleXYZ
GreenvaleXYZ

@rawsavon I rolled my eyes when I read that the story focused on the man.  I rolled my eyes when I read Carolyn's comments.  And I rolled my eyes when I read the comments about her comments.  Damn, my eyes are tired.  You people are all so predictable.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@rawsavon 

Then don't listen in the first place, if you already know what's to be heard. After all, were there any preachers that changed their pitch because others expressed skepticism or cynicism?

Furthermore, if there are people who "turned" against the message, they are already people with very different sets of personal values in the first place.

(Also, do tell what you said to a real preacher. ;) )

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

@never-named

If you're into that, sure. We have books for that, and I love to read. But when I'm playing a game I want a cinematic experience, with emotion behind the voices.

rawsavon
rawsavon

@JoeyTrib1550 

Reading their reviews is like talking to my dad…now stay with me for just a moment on this one.
My dad is an uber fundie.  He is a nice guy, mind you, but EVERYTHING he talks about in some way relates to God, Jesus, the Bible, and religion…everything.  Eventually it becomes so tiring and grating that not only is the message lost but it also has the opposite effect – it becomes annoying and turns people away (the opposite of what he intended).

Now back to the author of this review.  They may or may not have a point in their review/all of their reviews. But they hammer home their own political agenda SO much that it has lost all meaning and is just annoying as all f*ck now.

snxx
snxx

And I rolled my eyes when I read your comment complaining about the comments complaining about Petit's complaints. So, predictability, right back at ya.

steter1985
steter1985

@leikeylosh @rawsavon lmao couldn't have said it better myself.  Seems like all Carolyn's reviews eventually end up at "blah blah blah men suck..... women are poorly represented...." enough already please!!!! you've made your opinion painfully obvious to everyone by now. this is why I cant take Gamespot reviews seriously anymore.

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat @rawsavon 

I fail to see how I am being evasive.
I will be more than happy to discuss this further with you.  I am just not willing to do it in the comments section of a video game review for the reasons I stated earlier. So you are welcome to hop on over to TDH (I will link the site if you want) to continue the chat.
OR
You can continue to research the issue on your own and find your own answers – as to why people sometimes turn against something after repeated stimuli (be it a belief, something in pop culture, etc).

The choice is yours. But, as for my involvement, those are your only 2 choices.
…you are really living up to your nickname atm

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@rawsavon  

I have looked at topics about habituation before you even suggested it - and quite a number of them, such as Habituation: A History (by Richard F. Thompson), only described habituation as the process of becoming desensitized - "fatigue", or rather, emergent antipathy, is not part of the studies of habituation.


You are not being helpful with your advice there. I have the impression that you are being evasive.

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat

As I mentioned before, I am not to type out paragraphs worth of info in the comments section.
1. it is an annoying format for long posts
2. it is rude (towards the community) - by clogging sh*t up
3. it has nothing to do with what people came here for
So you are welcome to stop by TDH and discuss it if it interests you that much and you are not wanting to research it yourself


I would advise looking into habituation though

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@rawsavon

Oh, come on, can't you just answer that?

I am having a hard time trying to dig up scientific papers on repeated stimuli, fatigue and increasingly negative responses.

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat @rawsavon

We have clogged up the comments section far to much already with this...which has nothing to do with the review for this game.
And everyone here knows you will never stop (which is how you got your nickname that everyone knows you by).
So you can either: 
a. Look up the info yourself (pretty easy to research and better than me typing it all out in the comments section)
or
b. You are welcome to stop by TDH to discuss this further.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@rawsavon 

Ah, you said conditions there. Are these conditions tied to the repeated stimuli, which remains the same, or are they associated with the respondents or their environments?

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat 
There is no exact amount/number. It varies by person, by situation, how important the thing is to a person, etc.
It would take a lot for a christian to turn against their religion BUT it would take far less for a person to turn against a band/something in pop culture.

The later happens all the time. People like a band...there is over saturation...people turn against the band. But, by the same token, some people never turn against the band. So, as I said, there is no set answer or amount.  It does happen, but the conditions needed vary widely

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@rawsavon 

Yet how harder, exactly? If the stimuli remains the same, how can indifference turns into outright opposition?

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat @rawsavon 
Fatigue in that sense is the same as desensitization
The stimuli no longer elicits the same response due to
 desensitization/fatigue.  It is pretty common.  Another effect is actually changing one's view and taking the opposite stance - harder to achieve, but it still happens.   

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@rawsavon 

Ah... perhaps I was indeed being hasty about my claims of different sets of personal values".

Anyway, you cited the effects of repeated stimuli there. Now, if I recall, these effects result in desensitization, or increasing indifference.


How is it that you think that "fatigue" would set in from there?

rawsavon
rawsavon

@Gelugon_baat @rawsavon

Pretty terrible analysis tbh.

Most/many are not coming here for 'the message'. They are coming for a review about the quality of the game.  The message is something they have to endure.  Now if the message was in a special part of the review and clearly marked where we could avoid it, then you would have a point...we could just bypass that section.

Your comment of "
Furthermore, if there are people who "turned" against the message, they are already people with very different sets of personal values in the first place" is patently false.  I would invite you to read up of the effects of repeated stimuli...though I know you won't, so no point in going there.  But the long and the short of it is that people will often turn against something they previously supported due to 'fatigue'. It can be seen in various parts of life - religion, bands/pop culture, etc.

I don't know what you mean by,  "
do tell what you said to a real preacher", but I would tell them the exact same things I have said here...and have.

nodbgp
nodbgp

@MooncalfReviews @never-named If by that I need to cope with shitty writing, as happens most of the time when they spend way too much money on voice overs, then no thanks.

Lionheart199020
Lionheart199020

@MooncalfReviews


I've gotten a lot more emotion and sense of character out of the earlier Final Fantasy games than the newer ones mainly because of the lack of voice work. Case in point: HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH


That said, there are games that wouldn't be the same without voice overs. The Metal Gear series comes to mind.

Aletunda
Aletunda

@snxx Depends on the experience, something eerie like limbo works because there are no voices, the swapper worked well because it did. the point being it all depends on the individual game, However for something like this I would like it if there were voices 

snxx
snxx

And the point here is *you* want, that doesn't mean everyone wants the same, or believes it improves the game.

Hurvl
Hurvl

@MigGui@rawsavon@JoeyTrib1550 Once is enough around here, just like Tom McShea got branded as that guy who gave too low scores to games (just to piss people off? some wondered) after giving The Last of Us an 8. Never mind that 8 means gr8, him giving that game an 8 is his legacy, what he'll be remembered for.

MigGui
MigGui

@rawsavon @JoeyTrib1550 the only other time I've seen carolyn talk about that was in her GTA V reviews, where else does she make this "campaign"?

GreenvaleXYZ
GreenvaleXYZ

@snxx Haha, well, I've never made a comment like that before, so I doubt you could have predicted it.  But fair enough, on and on it goes.

ianpac
ianpac

@steter1985@leikeylosh@rawsavonYup more feminist claptrap shoved down our throats courtesy of our in house propaganda minister.  Of course if the game revolved around Linda and not Dan then Carolyn would be gushing with praise and a guaranteed score of 9.  Feminism = sexism.

The Novelist More Info

  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    The Novelist puts you in the role of a ghostly presence that can influence the path of Dan Kaplan's career and family life.
    7.9
    Average User RatingOut of 13 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate The Novelist
    Developed by:
    Orthogonal Games
    Published by:
    Orthogonal Games
    Genres:
    Miscellaneous