What are the characteristics that define a video game? And above all which of them make a title worth playing? These seemingly simple questions have an incredible multitude of possible answers and a mind-boggling variety of interpretations. Clear exponent of a category of its own, which combines fiction with the mere search for a personal meaning, it is precisely Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, an independent title developed by Dim Bulb Games e Serenity Forge and whose publisher is Good Shepherd Entertainment. During last year, precisely after the Gamescom in Cologne 2017, I have already spoken to you personally about the title thanks to the test that took place in Germany, expressing myself in this regard in an enthusiastic way. After a few months the appeal that the title manages to arouse on this type of players, a little bit poets and a little romantic, has remained unchanged ... but unfortunately with many sore points - at least as regards the version provided to us for the review, which is probably not the definitive one to the thousandth - on a technical level, errors and oversights which we will discuss in the course of our review. Prepare the bundle, good shoes and a bottle of Burbon, there is a long way to go.
From the first images, from the first sounds, from the first words you will read and hear in Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, it will be clear to the player that he will not be facing a game like any other. Every fiber of our being will be taken, kidnapped, trapped in a vortex of contrasting emotions, mixing strong bluesy tones in the experience. Without some preamble, we will be placed in front of the door of a sinister wooden house, impersonating a wayfarer with a lot of stick and bundle of which the face will remain in the shadows. A very special poker game is taking place inside the house, but when we realize what kind of game it is… it will already be too late. We will participate, we will go to the heads up with a man in gray, and we will also lose with the best possible hand. How is it possible? Our royal flush turned into some tarot cards… and ours materialized right in the paws of our opponent… a wolf-faced man. We can't cover our debt, but this dark werewolf has already thought about what to do with us. He will accept stories as payment, but not just any stories. We are talking about stories true, of stories of people who in front of us have laid bare their soul, theirs true entity. It therefore pushes us to go on a journey across the country, stripped of our skin and our flesh, in search of someone willing to reveal his deepest secrets.
Hard Times and Blues Rhymes
Even if it is not explicitly said, we are in the USA in a period between the 60s and 70s, where the standard of living is not exactly at an all-time high. Starting from the north east of the country, more precisely from the Maine so dear to Stephen King, we will find ourselves wandering the length and breadth of the vast map, where our character, mountains, cities, houses and little else will be reproduced in 3D. The total gameplay of the game is the continuous succession of phases of exploration, research, and storytelling. The people of whom we will have to steal the essence of the soul are in total 16, each with a past that has marked them and with a present that is its direct consequence.
But getting these people to trust us will take time, and we will have to tell them stories describing events that we experienced firsthand during our wanderings. But be careful: during the dialogues around the fire, the characters will make specific requests, and it will be up to us, as good storytellers, to choose the most suitable stories to satisfy their emotional needs. Speaking with them, there will be a large closed eye at the top center of the screen, which will open as our stories satisfy the interlocutor on duty. The time of each chat is limited to the whole night, at the end of which he will resume his journey, and we will be able to meet him again in another place that will be indicated by him. Our aim is to make the eye fully open from time to time, so as to move on to the next chapter of each character at each encounter. The chapters that will mark their stories are between 3 and 4 each (of increasing difficulty), and depending on this number their stories will be considered more or less interesting when we tell them to others. Every story that we can tell around the fire will be attributable to one of the 16 general themes that contain the tarot cards, but we will be able to "equip" only three at a time, choosing the best from those available, or those that we want to grow in fame. We will understand right away when the chapter that begins is the last of that character ... because we will see him transform into his inner form as soon as we sit with him. It will be up to you to interpret them all.
Miles of Smiles
The exploration and research phase is also an integral part of the game: during our journey we will stop from place to place and we will live some strange events, during which we will also be able to make decisions that very often will determine the outcome of the story in question (sometimes even with consequences on our health, on tiredness or on the money at our disposal). Every story we collect will become part of our baggage, and whenever we tell it, we will be able to find someone around who will tell us about it a little altered ... yes, the magic of word of mouth. When we listen to them altered, however, they will acquire much more interest, and by telling them in turn to one of the characters we will achieve more success. In large cities, in addition to being able to live a story for each one, we can also refresh ourselves and try to earn something by working or giving alms, but also take advantage of the station (paying) to reach another one, but being able to choose only among those connected to it. Other methods of moving around the map, besides the good old shoes, are the trains on which to clandestinely get on (at our peril, and with only one possible destination), and the evergreen hitch-hiking. It will not be possible to cross the great rivers, except in some specific points that will allow it. Unfortunately, not everything we talked about was created to perfection ...
The Skeleton's Struggle
For example, it has happened to me several times to get stuck on foot in a location, or even to accidentally end up in the sea and not be able to go out, even having to restart the game (which automatically saves our progress). One of the features that unfortunately loses some of the atmosphere of the title is the overly simplistic creation of three-dimensional elements, such as houses, mills, and large cities, which turn out to be a gigantic block, which even when covered by the passage of a cloud, will become monochrome. Roads? Obviously only the big state, but for some mysterious reason they will see the cars move only in one direction, sometimes making hitchhiking useful only to go back and not in the direction that interests us. Other technical angles are widespread for the game, such as inexplicable and not exactly sparse slowdowns and clicks, but also a bug that makes the mouse wheel very slow in the various menus, and that makes it more the usability of the game using a pad is recommended. Nothing overly complicated - roads aside - and that can't be improved with a patch. The last of the problems that could make the game "jam" is a slowness that is often quite marked in moving in general, risking to tire the player. Fortunately, the dozens of possibilities on the screen will push us to go “off the cuff”, almost not actually thinking about what the next goal to reach will be, deviating the road several times for no apparent precise reason.
But what makes Where the Water Tastes Like Wine such a charismatic title is the whole atmosphere that is created thanks to a sound sector of applause., probably one of the best ever on the independent world scene! Please note that I am not referring only to the very inspired and very melancholy soundtrack put on by the already run-in Ryan Ike - to whom I compliment the idea of having used one of the songs several times, reinterpreted in voices, style and language according to the area of the United States where we are, Vagrant Song - but also to the cast of triple A dubbers that the team has been able to churn out. In a game where storytelling is everything, the method of the narration and its essence are, to say the least, essential for the success of the product. And here is where more than known voices come to the microphone, such as Melissa Hutchison (Telltale's The Walking Dead in primis but also Anna Graham in Deadly Premonition), Elizabeth maxwell (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild), Kimberly Brooks (countless roles including Ashley Williams in the Mass Effect series), the eternal Dave Fennoy (Rodin in Bayonetta and dozens of other AAA titles), and, ladies and gentlemen, none other than Sting as the wolf! The blues and country sounds echo in our ears during the entirety of the game on the go, but molding itself in the image and likeness of our interlocutors when we are around the fire. Thrilling atmosphere. On the graphic level, however, we are divided in half, with the great inspiration contained in all the hand-made drawings, all the cartoons and all the characters, which crash into the approximate realization of the game world, and of all the three-dimensional features … Including our avatar.