PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
If a mirror can reflect the depths of one’s soul, then Daedalic would no doubt well up if they looked into one. Silence, the sequel to their breakout hit The Whispered World is a bite-sized portion of melancholia topped with just enough sweetness to make the journey easier to swallow. It’s a cascade of metaphor, both obvious and subtle, that can wind you unexpectedly even as you delight in its beauty.
Noah, the protagonist from the original point-and-click, is fleeing with his sister Renie as a relentless war wages. They rush towards a bomb shelter during a fierce air-raid whilst explosions batter the town, and take shelter in the bunker soon after. When the sirens have stopped, they exit to find themselves in the world of Silence, a fantasy realm which Noah previously visited. If you haven’t played the original game, Silence is the bridge between life and death and Noah’s last stint here was when he was in a coma as a young boy. By becoming the King of Silence and breaking a magic mirror, he was able to return to the real world. Your task is to find out why Noah and Renie have returned here and how they can get home. You don’t need to have played the original game to appreciate this one, but it would certainly enrich the experience.
As with the kids’ world, Silence is at war. After Noah’s departure, the False Queen now rules over the inhabitants with her army of abominations known as Seekers. Her aim is to locate the last remaining shard of the broken mirror for reasons we won’t spoil here. You’ll soon come across a couple of the denizens of the realm: the headstrong rebellion leader Kyra and her loyal compatriot Sam who are fighting against the oppressive monarch. However, aside from a couple of other kids and a guy called Janus who barely makes an impact, the world of Silence feels devoid of people. It may seem like this is more due to budget and game length rather than a deliberate move, until the conclusion draws near and you understand exactly what is happening.
That said, we would have loved to see a bigger cast, if only because the characters are uniformly excellent. The voice acting is spot on throughout, no more so than in Renie’s childish, yet earnest need to be recognised by her brother. Whilst the war in Silence doesn’t feel like it’s given enough game time and a number of the plot points - and indeed, characters - get short shrift towards the end, the driving force of the narrative is the relationship between the siblings. Noah acts like a clown to keep his sister’s spirit up, and yet in Silence he takes on the persona of an actual jester from the royal court named Sadwick. As the game progresses though, it becomes apparent that Renie is actually the strong one in the partnership, with her brother a weaker, more cowardly figure who is forced into uncomfortable situations to try and keep her safe.
As in the first game, you’re accompanied on the journey by a caterpillar named Spot, who may possibly be the most adorable companion in an adventure game to date. He has the ability to inflate to a balloon, flatten to a stretchy rectangle, split into mini Spots and take on properties of things that he drinks such as water, lava and helium. His inclusion not only bumps the cutesy needle into the red zone, but also allows for some surprisingly inventive puzzles. At first he’ll be stretching into bridges or expanding to bend the iron bars of gates to allow you to pass, but later on you’ll need to make the most of this various forms to proceed, including one ingenious trip around a dragon’s back. As with Noah, the move from 2D to 3D graphics has benefited his appearance immensely.
Outside of Spot’s segments, the puzzles aren’t particularly taxing. You don’t have a usable inventory, and instead have to apply items in the environment to various situations either in the same room, or on adjacent screens. Hitting space will bring up all of the hotspots in any area as well as a hint as to what is required (this can be disabled if desired), but more often than not it’s a case of clicking on something with a hand icon, and then clicking on something else to use that same item on it. On occasion the brother and sister are split up which requires you to transition between them by clicking on a bird, a slightly clunky mechanic but one that showcases their ability to work together. Balance puzzles which require you to use the mouse and keep a needle centred on a meter are more frustrating than difficult, but even then they won't keep you occupied for long. Saving isn’t possible since a checkpoint system simply autosaves to the latest place, but thankfully you won’t need to start the game from scratch to see the different endings since you can load up from the very last checkpoint. There are occasional dialogue choices resulting in slightly different responses, but this isn’t a Telltale game - aside from the finale, the differences are nominal at best.
If you are expecting Silence to challenge you mentally, you’ll be disappointed. Yet, it doesn’t really matter because the game itself draws you irresistibly in. The hand-drawn environments and 3D animations are superb, the backdrops lush and painterly, the music poignant and soulful. Spot and his imaginative transformations are the main source of humour in the game, but he elicits gentle laughs rather than big guffaws. One segment with a couple of talking rocks is as comedic as things get, and they don’t outstay their welcome.
But for all the frivolity and fantasy that Silence offers, it’s the darkness that will linger with you the longest. It touches on some uncomfortable subjects, for both the protagonists and the player. Renie’s need to be heard drives her to show her bravery again and again, whilst Noah’s only desire is to get home and for all the problems to go away. The underlying question of what the False Queen actually is and why the realm is under attack isn’t made clear until the end, but the effects of war are clear from the frantic introduction, and Noah’s brush with death in the first game has clearly affected both of the siblings and also the world of Silence itself. If The Whispered World was Noah’s story, this one is Renie’s - the theme of being forced to mature from an early age isn’t a new one, but here it’s played out sympathetically and with surprising tenderness.
Daedalic have been quietly putting out solid, enjoyable point-and-click adventures for the last eight years, but Silence is possibly the highlight of their catalogue to date. It may not have the absurdity of Edna and Harvey or the obscure puzzles of the Deponia series, and at around six hours in length, it could be considered too short to adequately flesh out the cast. But what it brings to the table is a touching story, complemented by a rich and mesmerising world. Spot and the wonderful landscapes that await you on each and every screen will draw you in, you’ll be hooked by the succession of predicaments the two kids land in and the bond they forge, and you’ll see it through to the end because that is exactly what Renie wants to do - and that fierce determination to finish the adventure is contagious in a way that we’ve rarely seen in this genre.