I don’t usually like Daedalic Entertainment’s releases. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when I enjoyed State of Mind back in September. It’s not regarded as a great game having only reached a metascore of 69, but its grittiness appealed to me more than the developer’s usual saccharine-filled fare.
It was in the following week while browsing through the catalogue that Steam recommended The Moment of Silence to me based on my playtime with State of Mind. I love point-and-clicks but this 2004 title by House of Tales wasn’t one I’d ever heard of before. The reviews were mixed and many players complained about poor movement controls but, as this is usually the case with adventures made during the mid-2000s, I decided to overlook it and add the game to my wishlist anyway.
I then ended up purchasing The Moment of Silence when it appeared in the Steam Halloween sale the following month and got stuck in. It promised an ‘absolutely unique, highly immersive espionage thriller story’ about advertising executive Peter Wright, who’s heading up the Government’s Freedom of Speech campaign. When his neighbour’s apartment is stormed by a SWAT team, he must uncover the truth about his disappearance as he gets caught up in a deceptive world of corruption and power.
Having now played the game for eight hours, I can see why players say the controls are an issue. Each individual shot of a scene is set at a different angle so the directions are constantly changing; it can therefore be difficult to tell where you’re entering the next one and you frequently find yourself running in the wrong direction. There’s a section in Peter’s apartment building that completely reverses on itself – so one minute you’re heading to your door and the next, you’re heading back to the elevator.
But it’s not too bad in terms of the plot so far, although maybe a little jumbled. State of Mind covered a wide range of futuristic subjects that were all interesting individually but given too little focus when combined in a single game. It’s possible The Moment of Silence may suffer the same fate because I’ve already encountered discussions about freedom of speech, propaganda, surveillance and aliens; and I can’t see how they’re going to be blended into an effective ending.
I recently discovered that Martin Ganteföhr was the writer for both titles so now the similarities are obvious. To be fair to him though, the Steam page says his 2004 game contains ‘fascinating, well-researched visions of the near future’ and he did an amazing job here. I’ve played through several conversations that are almost spooky: the protagonists talks about situations and world events we’ve since lived through, or subjects now high on the agenda for society. It’s almost as if Ganteföhr had a time-machine.
I’m sorry to say though that there’s one thing just I can’t forgive him for: the horrible depiction of certain characters. Think of every terrible stereotype you’ve ever heard about someone and here they are, all wrapped up in one little bundle. Older video games do tend to suffer from this because things considered acceptable when they were made are less tolerated now – for example, look at the way young Momo is referred to as ‘slow’ and ‘retarded’ in Syberia from 2002. That made for uncomfortable viewing.
But there’s something about the characters in The Moment of Silence that really annoy me. Take the guru in the park dressed in long robes and raving about how the earth is going to swallow us all, whom Peter laughs at and refers to as a ‘nutcase’. Or Hostess Linda at the Lunar 5 hotel wearing nothing a bikini and flight attendant hat, who struggles with difficult words like ‘wellness’ and keeps telling the protagonist to let her know if he wants anything regardless of ‘what kind of wish it is’.
Or there’s Bill, who’s perhaps my least favourite character of all. This guy looks after technology for the advertising agency at which Peter works and is every bad stereotype ever applied to IT geeks: he’s overweight, eats nothing but microwave meals, gets crumbs all over his colleague’s keyboards and sets his password to ‘sexmachine_bill_2044’. As someone who works in the IT industry themselves, I find assumptions like this ridiculous because they’re so far removed from how we really are.
Senior Creative Designer Ed Fear gave a talk at AdventureX last month which picked up on an interesting point about stereotypes. He claimed there’s nothing wrong with them because they’re useful handholds which let players know immediately where your characters are coming from – but they must be a foundation only. They’re an opportunity to build on your protagonist to make them more than the stereotype alone, thereby subverting expectations and harnessing a power for change.
And I think that’s my main problem with The Moment of Silence. The guru, Hostess Linda and Bill may only be in the game for brief periods but they don’t ever grow beyond the horrible tropes applied to them, at least not in the eight-hours I’ve played so far. Nowadays, they feel like terrible caricatures that come across as the lowest form of humour; I wonder how me back in 2004 would have reacted to them and if I’d have perceived their stereotypes less negatively.
Despite its shortcomings, I’d like to finish this game at some point to at least see how it ends for myself. I want to know whether all those subjects mentioned above are resolved or if it goes the same way as State of Mind and leaves me asking ‘But why?’ Sadly though, that might not be possible: a recent Windows update seems to have caused a problem and now The Moment of Silence won’t even start. I could spend some time looking into a fix but I can’t say I feel any real sense of urgency to do it right now.
Maybe it’s time to start a new adventure instead. Hopefully one with a better representation of IT geeks.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.