When Bildundtonfabrik’s (btf) campaign for Trüberbrook appeared on Kickstarter in November 2017, there were two things that stood out about the project for me. First was that the developer advertised their point-and-click adventure as ‘sci-fi mystery’ inspired by Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Stranger Things; and second was that all scenery was built by hand and then digitised using a process called photogrammetry.
The game was finally released around 16 months later and I received my key for it in March 2019. Unfortunately however, after installing it last month I experienced a cutscene bug which caused the screen to freeze and so turned my attention to Eastshade while waiting for a fix. During a few days off work recently I gave it another go, and was pleased to find I could now progress through late 1960s Germany and find out what was going down in the strange little rural town of Trüberbrook.
The story begins when young American physicist Hans Tannhauser wins a vacation there in a lottery he doesn’t remember entering. Shortly after his arrival, someone breaks into his room at the Pension Waldeslust to steal the notes for his PhD thesis on quantum physics and he decides to follow the thief. Eventually he teams up with anthropologst Gretchen Lemke who takes him on a great adventure, and it becomes clear he’s not in Germany by accident: he’s actually there to save the world.
It’s hard to talk about Trüberbrook without immediately mentioning its visual style because it’s so unique. Similar to releases such as The Dream Machine and Armikrog, everything is handmade and real lightning is used to stimulate different times of the day and weather conditions; the opening credits put these methods to great use when our protagonist rides in a bus up a mountain to the village. The result is an extremely ‘tactile’ title which almost feels as though you could reach out and touch it.
Each location you visit on your journey has its own personality thanks to btf’s wonderful creativity and they’re all a joy to visit. But sadly, you’re never in one place for long enough to really get to know it before you’re whisked off to the next and each stop therefore feels too short. There’s an interesting section where you’re taken to a sanitarium which is overseen by a doctor who thinks you could be an alien in disguise, but it’s never fully explained what you’re doing there or why he has come to this outlandish conclusion.
Speaking of the non-player characters, the above is unfortunately true of them also: they’re individually quirky and feel as though they’ve come straight out of Twin Peaks but you just done get enough time or interaction with them. There’s also the fact that Hans frequently uses a dictaphone to record messages for some unknown person named ‘Beverley’. I understand this is a reference to Special Agent Dale Cooper’s Diane, but players unfamiliar with the series may feel left out.
At a panel about the future of the adventure genre recently, it was discussed how some modern titles have oversimplified their mechanics – and I was reminded of this while playing Trüberbrook. Puzzles typically involve finding the right item and then using it on the correct person or object, but pretty much everything is done for you. There’s no real inventory to manage; items are immediately combined for you; and the right selection is automatically made after clicking on a hotspot.
The challenges themselves are ok, and generally fit in well with the storyline and locations. My only issue was with one where it was necessary to figure out the correct sequence in which to click on items in the environment. At first tried trial-and-error and then I thought I may have missed some vital information in a conversation with another character, but no; the solution was dependent upon the player’s historical knowledge. I’m not a fan of those moments where a title doesn’t provide you with everything you need in-game.
Overall, Trüberbrook is just like its namesake town: a pleasant experience but not long enough and a little empty. It’s not the best adventure I’ve ever played but it’s far from being the worst and it kept me entertained for around five hours. It’s a great introduction to the genre for anyone who hasn’t played a point-and-click before, but experienced players won’t find the challenge they’re seeking and may feel let down – although the lovely visuals are likely to convince them to stay for the ride.
It’s a shame, because with a little extension and more detailed science-fiction plot it could have been something really special. As Cooper said himself: “I’m close, but the last few steps are always the darkest and most difficult.”
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.