As an old-school point & click adventure game funded on Kickstarter and launched on Early Access, The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 has a lot to prove, and proves it all.
Point and click adventure games can still entertain us for upwards of 20 hours rather than being broken up into bite-sized episodes. Point and click adventure games can be crowd-funded, developed in Early Access and released in a timely fashion rather than turning into bloated delayed embarrassments (here's looking at you, Double Fine). Point and click adventure games can still be both engaging and funny without flirting with other genres to keep players interested.
And they can definitely be worth £24.99. The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 is an absolutely cracking adventure game, an excellent parody and probably one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year. Assuming that you played the original, mind, else some of the details are going to be a little confusing.
The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 starts with rogueish hero Nate briefly recounting how he recovered a powerful artefact with headstrong Elven princess Ivo, gnomish mage-in-training Wilbur and inexplicable fuzzball Critter, before revealing that he's in fact plummeting to his death. It's just the first of many twists in a surprisingly capable storyline that forces our four protagonists back together to discover and combat an emerging new threat throughout this colourful fantasy world.
It's also a baptism of fire that introduces you to the two main gameplay mechanics: "pointing" and, wait for it, "clicking." Well what did you expect?
Following a genuinely exceptional tutorial, which is so breathtakingly clever I can't bring myself to spoil it, The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 throttles back and eases off the pace, resulting in a slow first couple of chapters as the four characters reveal where they've ended up after the bizarre conclusion to the first game. It's a little slow to get going, especially the first chapter, but it does a great job of reacquainting us with the cast before bringing them back together.
Speaking of the characters, they're all brilliantly-written and sidesplittingly observed, including our leading quartet alongside the villains and frankly bonkers list of peripheral NPCs. Not limited to a talking medical book, performance anxiety-ridden genie, cliché-defying zombie lovers and their robot kid. Dialogue is copious, pithy and flows well, but is often let down by inconsistent voice acting and delivery, which often lacks urgency and sometimes fails to match the situation. I suspect that the cast might have lacked detailed audio direction, broadly competent though it is in the main.
Thankfully the script picks things back up again. This is a funny game, almost living up to those hallowed Lucasarts greats in terms of anachronistic humour and pop culture refences, but updating its source material for a new audience. The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 is absolutely full of visual and metaphorical gags, riffing on everything from F2P games and RPG skill systems to Skyrim, A Game Of Thrones and House M.D., and eliciting plenty of laughs as a result even if a few gags fall a bit far from the mark.
Going down the parody route can be dangerous and has lead to many an embarrassing ruin, but thankfully The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 can deliver its satire from a position of strength. Partly this is due to the lavish visuals and production values, clearly evident throughout the sumptuous artwork and fluid animations, while the premium price tag allows King Art to provide a huge wealth of optional content such as sidequests and plenty of missable-yet-hilarious lines of dialogue that reward exploration and clicking on everything you can.
Just as importantly, though, the gameplay is excellent. It's mechanically streamlined and elegant, using the right mouse button to look at/observe an object or person, middle mouse button to open your inventory and ol' lefty to make your character interact with an object in the way they logically would. Well, as logically as you can when inventory items include books on carpentry and pink faeces amongst even more bizarre contrivances. Everything save a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle. Finally, hitting the space bar highlights every object of interest on the screen, which frankly I would loved in Grim Fandango.
Throughout some relatively expansive locations, you'll engage in a huge selection of logic puzzles, some of which are devious whereas others require a little lateral thinking. Sadly a few of the solutions involve working out how to use the items you have with everything else in the environment rather than clever deduction (one early puzzle involving a willow tree and a rainbow springs to mind) and a couple are a little dull (one involving coal definitely springs to mind), but there's a great variety and smooth difficulty curve overall. Once you gain the ability to switch between characters, the extra level of complexity leads to some genuine brainteasers.
Unfortunately, The Book Of Unwritten Tales does hit a few snags. Beyond the slow start and uneven line delivery, the early access release wasn't able to iron out some kinks involving character movement. You'll click around the environments to move them, but sometimes they'll end up somewhere completely unexpected, occasionally they'll loop and far too often they'll make finnicky and awkward extra animations before finally agreeing to begin the conversation or action, completely killing the mood.
It's nowhere near enough to stop me recommending The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2, though, and recommending it thoroughly at that. £24.99 might seem like a big ask, but here it's buying you a massive slab of quality adventure that honours past conventions while making it feel fresh and exciting again.
- Elegant old-school point & click puzzling with a compelling story
- Hilarious writing, characters and parody references
- Gorgeous, loads of extra detail and optional content
- Meaty length at 20+ hours
- Slow start; a few duff puzzles
- Voice acting and delivery can be inconsistent, humour sometimes tries a bit too hard
- Some issues with character movement and pathfinding
The Short Version: The Book Of Unwritten Tales 2 proves that point & click adventure games don't have to change to be relevant in 2015. They just have to be better. It's enormous, hilarious, referential, satisfying and absolutely worth £24.99.
If only every Kickstarter-backed Early Access project worked out this well.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Developer: KING Art