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The Moment of Silence review: not doing characters Wright

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I usually find myself struggling to enjoy games from Daedalic Entertainment.

There’s just something about their releases which doesn’t click with me and the humour often falls flat. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise when I found State of Mind at the Rezzed event in April 2018, bought it the following year, and actually found myself enjoying it.

The Moment of Silence popped up in my Steam recommendations during the week afterwards. This 2004 release from House of Tales had been created by Martin Ganteföhr, the director behind State of Mind. The reviews were mixed and many players had complained about clunky movement controls but, seeing as this is a frequent quirk in adventures from the mid-2000s, I decided to overlook it and added the game to my wishlist.

When the Halloween sale arrived in October 2019, I decided to give it a go. The game promised an ‘absolutely unique, highly immersive espionage thriller story’ about an advertising executive named Peter Wright who’s heading up the government’s Freedom of Speech campaign. Things take a dark turn when a SWAT team raids his neighbour’s apartment and he’s catapulted into a web of deception and corruption.

After playing for almost nine hours, I could see where the complains about the controls were coming from. The camera angle changes in every scene and this makes navigation a challenge, as it can be difficult to tell where you’re entering the next one from. I frequently found myself heading in the wrong direction as a result. For example, a section in Peter’s apartment completely reverses so one minute you’re walking to your door and the next, you’re going back to the elevator.

It wasn’t bad in terms of plot though and it felt like it had some potential despite being disjoined. State of Mind covered a wide range of futuristic subjects which were all individually intriguing but given too little focus when combined in a single title. I remember writing back then that it was possible for The Moment of Silence to end up suffering the same fate as I’d already encountered discussions about freedom of speech, propaganda, surveillance and aliens. I couldn’t see how all these subjects were going to be blended into an effective conclusion.

Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to see if my concern held true. A Windows update caused an issue which resulted in a black screen each time I tried to launch the game. Although I had some interest in completing it to see how the story finished, the nine hours of gameplay I’d experienced so far weren’t gripping enough to make me urgently look for a fix. Instead, I decided to shelve The Moment of Silence back in my Steam library and figured I’d eventually go back to it one day.

Fast forward to October 2023. With so much going on with my job, apprenticeship and marathon training, my other-half and I recently began watching longplays of older adventure games on YouTube during evenings when we were too tired to play anything ourselves. One such title to get this treatment was The Mystery of the Druids. I’d bought it for my PC when it came out in October 2001, but hadn’t managed to get very far into it thanks to numerous bugs and frequent crashes.

While reading a few articles about the game afterwards, I discovered that it had been House of Tales’ first release in 2001 and was also written by Ganteföhr. This new knowledge inspired me to reinstall The Moment of Silence and find out if a newer PC and loads more Windows updates had resolved the previous issue. I luckily managed to load my 2019 save but opted to start over as so much time had passed, which gave me the opportunity to record my own playthrough too.

I’m sorry to say that my earlier concern for the title’s ending was validated. In addition to the narrative elements mentioned earlier, the game also delved into corrupt governments, conspiracy theories and artificial intelligence (AI). The inclusion of so many subjects caused the same problem I’d seen in State of Mind and the story became progressively more disjoined. Instead of being pulled along by an atmosphere of intrigue, I gradually lost interest through being unable to discern the central thread.

The Moment of Silence’s character portrayals were also far from admirable. It seemed like every terrible stereotype I’d ever come across in a video game was bundled up in a neat package. I do understand that older video games can suffer from this problem due to changing social standards, where things considered acceptable when they were made are not so tolerated now. But the representations here felt particularly clumsily handled and my dislike had grown to the entire cast by the time the credits rolled.

For instance, there’s the guru living in the park shouting about the earth swallowing us all, whom Peter laughs at and dismisses as a ‘nutcase’. Then there’s the Lunar 5 hotel hostess Linda, who struggles with difficult words like ‘wellness’ while wearing nothing but a bikini and flight attendant hat. And Bill, the IT guy at the advertising agency, is cringeworthy. He’s overweight, eats nothing but microwave meals and sets his password to ‘sexmachine_bill_2044’. As someone employed in the industry, this is so far removed from the reality of our work.

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by director and writer Ed Fear during AdventureX in November 2019, where he made an interesting point about stereotypes. He argued that there’s nothing inherently wrong with using them because they’re useful handholds that let players know immediately where your characters are coming from – but they should be a foundation only. They’re a chance to build on a character to make them more than the trope alone, thereby subverting expectations and harnessing a power for change.

That brings me to my main issue with The Moment of Silence. The guru, Linda, Bill and others may only be in the title for brief periods but they’re never allowed to grow beyond their initial stereotypes. Instead of building them up to become something more, the game relies on tired cliches and characters who feel like placeholders rather than developed individuals. I do wonder whether the me from 20 years ago would have reacted to them differently and if I’d have perceived their tropes less negatively.

This reliance on clichés, along with the abrupt introduction of numerous narrative elements and red herrings, made it hard for me to emotionally invest in Peter’s quest. My interest dwindled to the point where I considered him to be a thoroughly dislikeable protagonist and didn’t care whether he’d manage to track down his missing neighbour. I ended up following a walkthrough not long after where I’d reached in 2019, with the aim of getting through it as quickly as possible.

The Moment of Silence might be worth a playthrough for fans of point-and-clicks with a fondness for dystopian themes and conspiracy theories. But for me, it’s more a lesson in why it’s so important to maintain narrative focus and create characters we can believe in.

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