The Silent Age Review: A Sparse, Stylish Throwback Adventure
I didn’t play the Silent Age when it first came out on mobile platforms years ago.
I didn’t even play it when a friend of mine bought it for me in the 2015 Steam Holiday Sale.
I finally got around to it this week after a different friend picked it up on sale and said he would play through it. I love playing stuff at the same time as someone I know personally, because then I can talk to them about it and dissect it for hours.
There’s not much to dissect in The Silent Age.
This review is free of major story spoilers, so feel free to read away before or after playing!
The Silent Age is a 10 dollar game that’ll take you a few hours to complete, from small developer House on Fire. It’s a point and click adventure in a very traditional style, with a cross-shaped cursor like the old SCUMM games, but without any sort of verb system. You just click and go, and there’s also a small inventory.
It’s out on Steam, the Windows Store, and various mobile platforms.
The Silent Age casts you as a dude named Joe. He’s a janitor for a questionable big corporation, living out his life in the early 70’s. Then he has a really weird day and ends up acquiring a time machine and a quest to solve the world from a terrible plague that kills everyone.
He accomplishes this quest by solving arbitrary puzzles and breaking things.
I’ve played a lot of point-and-click adventure games. Growing up, it was one of my favorite genres. My favorite games in this style are Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit The Road, and King’s Quest V.
If a point-and-click game came out before the year 2000, I’ve probably played it.
With that in mind…The Silent Age’s gameplay and puzzle design are definitely more in-line with the older classics than anything modern like Telltale’s stuff.
But its small budget is also apparent. That’s not always a bad thing.
There are no inventory combination puzzles in The Silent Age, and the amount of stuff you can interact with is relatively thin. On the plus side, this means that it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to complete if you’ve never played a game in this style…but it also means that veterans will see through all the puzzle logic pretty quickly.
I only got stuck a couple of times when I missed out on a subtle piece of art that turned out to be clickable.
The game re-uses a few of the same design tricks over and over across its 10 short episodes/levels. Its favorite thing to do is make an area dark and require you to light it up in some hilariously convoluted way. The light then magically reveals a new item you couldn’t notice before that allows you to continue on.
It’s not all bad, though.
A central conceit of the plot is a small time machine that Joe acquires near the beginning. With this, you can instantly pop back and forth between the present and a weird vision of the future. There’s lots of fun puzzles that require you to think around this time mechanic, and none of them are as mind-bendingly hard as the stuff in Day of the Tentacle.
In fact, the fun nature of these time puzzles makes the areas where the game takes away your time machine abilities rather dull. This only happens a few times during the game, but I found myself wanting to go back to the time machine stuff almost immediately.
Presentation is the most consistent and satisfying aspect of The Silent Age. This project was brilliantly scoped, with a story and design that work beautifully around its smaller-budget production.
The graphical style is vibrant and artistic, with nice animations for the few characters and backgrounds that generally read well and look stylish rather than cheap. Sound design and music are both excellent.
There’s not a whole lot of characters to talk to, but I generally enjoyed the voice acting in the game. Some of the performances near the beginning are rough, but doofy protagonist Joe really grew on me over the course of the story. And a big exposition dump in the back third is well-delivered.
The game is a masterclass in how to deliver style and production without breaking the bank, and although its puzzle design is a little basic/weird at times, I can’t level the same complaint at the audiovisual presentation.
You only have to look to Telltale’s increasingly-clunky and aging engine to see how not to do this. Their recent games have succeeded in spite of their production quality.
The Silent Age looks like The Witcher 3 by comparison.
Good management and scoping is everything in efficient game design.
As I said at the top, no major spoilers here!
The story is solid, and I was satisfied by the conclusion…but even though I missed a few of the bonus achievements along the way, I have no real desire to revisit it. The time-travel-infused yarn does some fun things, but if you’ve ever experienced any other time travel stories, you won’t really be surprised at all.
The charm of the game comes through its style and its treatment of characters rather than from its specific plot. The characters are more memorable than the story. Joe, the bartender, and a man playing music in a subway particularly stand out in my mind, among a few others.
That’s not to say that it leaves any dangling threads or is bad. It’s a fun, functional time-travel plot that provides just enough motivation to keep you clicking on things.
Is this worth 10 bucks? Maybe. The more you like this genre, the more forgiving you’ll be of this game’s design quirks…but also the more you’ll see its flaws.
Newcomers to adventure games would probably be better served by either some of the classic examples of the genre, or some of Telltale’s stuff. But it’s a good second or third game.
It’s tough to review things that I’m so thoroughly middle-of-the-road on. The presentation here is well above what I’d expect from such a small team, but the puzzle design almost feels like they got halfway to where they wanted to go, and pulled back.
I still generally enjoyed my time with this, but I’ll probably never boot it up again. It’s good/solid/okay/decent, but its uneven puzzle design leaves it a few steps short of “classic” status.
Recommended for the most ardent fans of the genre, particularly if it’s on sale.