A Golden Wake (Hands-On) (PC) Preview

By Kyle Henderson 24.07.2014 1

Review for A Golden Wake (Hands-On) on PC

While the publisher behind A Golden Wake is most well-known for the Blackwell series, this new entry to their stable comes from developer Grundislav Games. This is the first full project from the studio, previously having produced what are essentially adventure game shorts, and they've picked a relatively bizarre subject; a historically-accurate retelling of the rise and fall of the real estate market in Miami in the early 20th century.

Adventure games typically feature an element of... adventure. Monkey Island is a classic pirate fantasy albeit with plenty of self-deprecating humour, Broken Sword is a globe-trotting modern Indiana Jones story, the Sierra Indiana Jones games are literally Indiana Jones stories - this entire preview could be one long list. A Golden Wake doesn't agree with that genre rule at all, although that's not to say that the journey of Alfie Banks and his career in land development, city-founding, and a couple of other rather unexpected fields, isn't interesting and, at times, strangely exciting.

It's a pretty odd departure for main developer Francisco Gonzalez, previously being best known for his Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator series. For the uninitiated, the name says it all; it's a series of adventure games wherein the titular character solves crimes involving monsters ranging from witches to zombies. To go from that to a game primarily about real estate is a pretty huge shift in focus but it's pulled off with a confidence to suggest that this is what they've always been doing.

Screenshot for A Golden Wake (Hands-On) on PC

The passion that this developer has for this period's rich history is a big part of it. It's an infectious passion, the kind that sends people on two hour Wikipedia sprees. Every location, character and scene in this game has clearly been a labour of love. It's apparent in the amount of clickable objects dotting the screen at every moment, especially the ones that have no bearing on anything and are just there to throw up a piece of trivia or some interesting framing information.

It's very apparent that Gonzalez knows his history and is an enthusiast of this particular era. The whole story and most of the characters in it are real life figures, so best to abstain from Googling until the credits are rolling in case of spoilers. The sheer variety of Miami people and places that are crammed into the few hours of playtime is impressive and there's very little that is of no interest. Players are going to come away from this game feeling like they've learned something, a quality that gaming could do with more of.

Front and centre is an intriguing story that takes every advantage of that true life status. Protagonist Alfie Banks is the son of a successful, but deceased, real estate mogul in New York City. After being ousted from his father's company he heads to Miami to restore the family name and make something of himself in the midst of a big industry boom. There he meets George Merrick and Doc Dammers, two charismatic business leaders, who then together set about founding the city of Coral Gables.

Screenshot for A Golden Wake (Hands-On) on PC

While it heads off on a few odd tangents, it's a very enjoyable tale. Stakes are much higher than they might sound and Banks is quickly in the thick of it, doing whatever it takes to develop the new city. As is typical of the genre he mostly finds himself acting as a bit of an errand boy, which is mainly a device to set the player up with environmental puzzles to solve and a variety of people to talk to, but it never feels unnatural and is even incorporated into the overall plot itself.

Unfortunately on a few occasions, the story's momentum can feel a little dead in the water, usually because it has flown off course in service of representing every aspect of the place and era. It's an admirable goal. There's certainly not a wealth of games portraying this era and subject so it's understandable to want to really squeeze every drop of juice out of it. Some of these side roads are just as interesting as the main story anyway, so it's tough to get too upset, but players may find themselves frustrated that what seemed to be the main plot has been put on hold.

Another quirk of the game's strange focus is the story's overall structure. Being based around a real business, things don't move as quickly as is usual in games. All told, the game covers almost 20 years of these characters' lives and there's simply not enough time to examine every minutiae. This results in a few flow-breaking time jumps. One chapter can come to an end in, for instance, 1923 before the next chapter starts up again in 1926, with nothing but exposition to fill in the gap. It is certainly inelegant and can be disorientating, but at the same time thrilling in a way; players will see the work they did in one chapter instantly come to fruition by way of these forward leaps.

Screenshot for A Golden Wake (Hands-On) on PC

The constant throughout all these story strands is the excellent writing, the one aspect that an adventure game lives or dies by. So much play time is spent reading/listening to dialogue that it can be a complete game breaker if it's too mundane or the humour is constantly missing the mark. That certainly can't be said for A Golden Wake; the writing always feels natural and the characters all feel uniquely witty and interesting, importantly including Alfie himself. The voice acting doesn't disappoint either; the excellent dialogue is all delivered with the right amount of pathos and/or levity in all the correct places.

The puzzles themselves may be a source of some disappointment; there's nothing new here, just standard point-and-click fare, although without the annoying inventory bursting nature of some of the classics. There's rarely a huge amount of possibilities for any one problem and solutions rather seem to fall into Alfie's lap. There are a handful of satisfying moments, though, and to the game's credit, each solution feels organic; there are no rubber chicken pulleys to be found here. It's also not really the focus. A Golden Wake's charms lie elsewhere and the puzzles simply feel like a requirement of the genre, so their inclusion at all is a little questionable.

The graphics, too, feel like they've been designed in a way that suits the genre, rather than the game itself. It's understandable for a small developer, especially one that's clearly more interested in story, characters and writing, to not be able to produce awe-inspiring graphics, but the visuals here are absolutely basic. This could be a restriction of the software used in designing the game, but it is hoped that the studio raises the graphical bar a bit with their next project.

Screenshot for A Golden Wake (Hands-On) on PC

Final Thoughts

A Golden Wake is certainly not without its problems, then, but it's shaping up to be a fresh take on the genre and an interesting game in its own right. While the puzzles aren't always amazing and the story takes a few strange turns, there's incredible attention to detail and a contagious enthusiasm running through the entire experience. Anyone with so much as a passing interest in this period of history shouldn't miss it, but everyone else should take a look, too - they just might find themselves drawn in.

Developer

Grundislav Games

Publisher

Wadjet Eye Games

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Ah, so it's just the same publisher not developer. Okay, my misunderstanding...but it still sounds interesting, though, which is good to know. Thanks for the lowdown on this one, Kyle - certainly am intrigued by it.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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