Indie developer David Szymanski’s new miniature masterpiece, featuring an interesting little character study between mother and daughter.
|Genre||Adventure, horror, indie|
|Buy for Steam (PC)||Purchase from Steam.|
* Previously published at Indie GAGA *
So managing to cram in ANOTHER indie game for October 2015, I’m ready to go back to reviewing some animations for November. I can safely say that this is the most work I’ve done on this website in a single month. As you can imagine, I’m tiring out.
But enough about me. Let’s get to more business.
A Wolf in Autumn is a new release from Steam that advertises itself as a psychological horror game. It has warned us beforehand about the brevity of the game (only about one hour) and I was able to get this one during a sale. Didn’t even pay $2 for it.
That might make me a cheapskate (and I kinda am), but hey. Anything is better for the developer than “free.” If this manages to bolster the number of sales, hooray for him.
To begin with, the game was built with the Unity engine. This is a very common game engine used by indie developers, often with games that you can download from Indie DB and Game Jolt. I played my small share of these games—including the previously famous Slender. Needless to say, there isn’t a whole lot to these games other than a one-time journey. Understandably so, we can’t expect a project with a big scope from amateur game developers, especially one-man projects.
Oh, playing hardball, are we?
…Well, to be fair, that wasn’t Unity engine. And that took several years. But I’m getting off-topic so let’s move on.
A Wolf in Autumn is very much this same type of experience you see from Unity games, though I can say that there is a little more effort to your typical fare in Indie DB and Game Jolt.
The game opens up with narration about a woman losing her sanity and her waning relationship with her daughter. You also see a short cutscene of a distorted room while you can hear an argument and loud banging noises in the background.
So like with typical Unity games, you play in first-person view. This time, you’re a 9-year old girl and you’re exploring the most colorful backyard in the world… literally. You can find all of your primary and secondary colors here.
To be fair, this is a really pretty area and the animations of the trees do help in selling the atmosphere. It gives the impression that the wind is blowing through them. It is also a vibrant interpretation of the season autumn. At the same time, this works out as a double entendre since the girl’s name is Autumn.
And I’m going to be a buzzkill for a bit. One common criticism I’d like to bring up with first-person Unity engine games is the puzzle-solving. I am not a fan of the puzzle-solving in these kinds of games, especially those with a similar frustration to playing Anna. This game is no exception, as there’s an obscure, back-and-forth type of puzzle-solving where:
- You need to figure out what the puzzle is first before you can do anything.
- You need to find its solution.
While A Wolf in Autumn is not terribly difficult in this regard after tinkering around for a bit, there’s another dimension that adds to the ambiguity: all of the available tools lying around. And you can only carry one at a time—which, story-wise, actually makes sense which I will not spoil for you.
You really only need to use a few of the tools lying around while the others don’t get used at all, so there is some trial-and-error gameplay going about. It’s not the worst I’ve seen and you do get to learn some backstory from solving these puzzles, so I was able to tolerate it.
But one thing to take note is that it is very easy to lose these tools. They don’t stand out from the background too well, so you need to take great care on where you place them so that you can come back and retrieve them.
Once you know all of the solutions to the puzzles, you can probably complete the entire game in less than ten minutes. But with this stretching out going on, there is actually a fascinating story in the works.
As I mentioned earlier, the story is about a woman and her daughter. You are playing as the daughter, who seems to have a fascination with machinery. As you solve puzzles, you may receive messages from this bizarre tin device, which contains recordings from Autumn’s mother. We learn that Autumn’s mother has an overbearing hold over her daughter; as the game progresses, we learn that the depth of this trait had sunken into disturbing levels.
And I must say, the voiceover for Autumn’s mother is impressively done. It sounds like it was recorded in a professional studio and the emotions of the voice often shift from concerned to psychotic.
Not to give away too much, but what I believe makes this story work is what we’re NOT told. With the strange objects you find and the bizarre noises you hear around you, this story is ripe with symbolism that implies horrific events. Yeah, it is a simple story. I’ll give it that. But there is a good amount of subtext that I think will require some thought in order to determine the true relationship between mother and daughter.
Think this is a nice, warm room? Think again.
In a way, it is like reading that one short story in your high school literature class. Or better yet, experiencing it. While there is some text to read, much of what we learn from this game is from purely visual and sound design. You don’t typically see this kind of thematic storytelling found in most Unity engine games. Hell, I don’t think it’s typical to see the world from the eyes of a troubled little girl.
Before I close this review, I should note that this game is a production of David Szymanski, the developer responsible for other short horror indie games such as Fingerbones, The Music Machine, and The Moon Silver. While I haven’t played those games, I heard they were similar little experiences that play out like short stories with visuals.
And if you look at A Wolf in Autumn in this light—a very simple game with strong visuals and strong writing—you’ll get your money’s worth and you won’t be disappointed.
A Wolf in Autumn$1.99
- The fact that you can only carry one item at a time makes sense in the context of the story, which helps strengthen the point of this mechanic.
- Some puzzles are straightforward, like using a wire cutter on a piece of chain.
- The amount of hidden subtext in the game makes it surprisingly deeper than it looks on the surface.
- The bright, saturated colors of the forest do well in conveying a dreamlike world.
- The voiceover behind Autumn's mother does an impressive job in conveying the character's emotions, sounding like it was recorded in a professional studio. The background noises of the environments, such as trees rustling in the wind and predatory animals roaring in the distance, add to the atmosphere.
- Finding what puzzles you need to solve requires some trial and error and an eye for spotting tiny details in the environment.
- Carrying only one item at a time may annoy players.
- Items are easy to lose since they blend too well with the environments, so you need to put them in
- The lack of replay value, unless you're keen on interpreting the story more.
- The ambiguous ending may annoy players looking for a conclusion that wraps everything up.