A point-and-click adventure set in 1960s Germany, Truberbrook is a much-anticipated mystery game with a sci-fi twist. You can tell just how anticipated Truberbrook has been by looking at the success of its crowdfunding, with the German development team behind the title, btf, receiving €198,142 of the €80,000 they asked for. But does it live up to the hype?
Late at night, a woman breaks down on her motorcycle at an unmanned gas station on a scenic highway. There is nobody around, and she needs to fix her iron steed in order to progress — this is the player’s introduction to Truberbrook’s world, and serves as the game’s tutorial.
The controls are not explained. It is up to the player to figure them out (or pause the game, where they are shown on the menu). Left-click on PC does pretty much all four of the interactions available in-game: talk, use, look, and use item. Pressing the spacebar will indicate areas of the scene that you can interact with in case you get stuck for clues, and this certainly comes in handy at times. Although simple, the controls work well, and allow you to focus on the gameplay.
Once you’ve completed the tutorial, it’s onto the eponymous Truberbrook proper, a dinky German town. This is where the story really kicks in. It turns out that you don’t actually play as the aforementioned woman. No, you play as American Dr. Hans Tannhauser, a physicist who wins a trip to Truberbrook. And just as you get acclimated with the town, the game throws you into its eccentric and strange story. Mystery abounds.
There is no denying that Truberbrook is full of interesting and charming characters, evidenced by the fact that you soon bump into the woman you played as during the tutorial. It turns out that her name is Gretchen, an anthropologist interested in ancient cult rituals. Deranged old men, cats that aren’t quite cats, conspiracy nuts: Truberbrook has them all. And it’s refreshing. The game’s main strength lies in these extremely charming characters. Each one with a distinct identity and personality. Humour, too, plays a crucial part in making the world so interesting, many times being laugh-out-loud funny.
Unfortunately, Tannhauser is the weakest of the kooky cast of characters. The tape recorder he talks into is actually a clever plot device, giving exposition and depth to the world. However, this doesn’t stop him from being a bland protagonist. There are moments of brilliance that shine through, but overall he is the weakest character in the game.
The game’s charming nature also extends to other areas. See, the animation has a Wallace and Gromit feel to it, and the backgrounds are a delight to gaze at while you try to solve puzzles. Combine this with great sound design, voice acting, and ambience, and it’s a fun world to get lost in. Though, it sometimes feels like there is more breadth than depth here. Case in point, the town of Truberbrook itself only actually has one scene in which to walk around.
In the same vein, the game’s short length — around five to six hours — makes the experience feel very compressed. A short length isn’t necessarily bad, but in this case it is. Just as you solve one puzzle, and come to grips with its consequences or revelations, you are whisked away to the next story moment, with little time to process what is actually unfolding. There just isn’t enough time in each place to build a deep connection with Truberbrook’s world.
The story, for most of the game, retains its mystery, keeping you invested in finding out what is going on in this sleepy town. Unfortunately, though, the plot twist is telegraphed, meaning that it doesn’t really have the intended impact, and towards the end the story takes a tropey and convoluted turn. This is a letdown because it was building to something far more interesting. The pacing at which the story is delivered is also jarring. The game is back loaded, with lots of puzzles and world exploration near the end. If these were spread out more, the pacing would be so much better. Instead, the game reveals all its secrets, then enhances the world with more interesting characters when it is too late.
The gameplay contains some truly obnoxious puzzles, like sending a telegram but having to take a screenshot of a very long string of numbers, because nobody outside of the movie Rain Man would remember them. Another instance is a puzzle in a dark area, which involves mousing over the darkness in the hope of highlighting hidden objects in the correct order. Other times, the puzzles make complete sense, and are even quite clever. In this regard, Truberbrook is sometimes schizophrenic in nature; at points it shows promise and progresses the genre, and other times it makes really fundamental mistakes that hold it back from being a great game. Disparity is the name of the game here, and Truberbrook’s puzzles disappoint as much as they excel.
It feels like Truberbrook really struggles with its identity at times, and perhaps just a little bit more thought would have put this among the adventure greats. Which is a shame, because there is so much to love about Truberbrook: truly funny humour, interesting three-dimensional characters, a world that is fun to explore, a nice control system, and some clever design.
For instance, there is a cutscene during the end credits that made me exclaim “Oh my God, that’s amazing.” A testament to the game’s potential, and the creativity of the team behind it. Unfortunately, the main story is convoluted, falling flatter with each revelation as you progress. There are flashes of absolute brilliance – such as the aforementioned cutscene – but, in general, it is a case of Truberbrook being good in spite of its story, rather than because of it. The sheer charm of the world pulls this game up much higher than the sum of its parts.
If it had been longer, paced a bit better, and had a more original story, then Truberbrook would be a far superior game. As it is, it punches well above its weight, and is worth the time of any point-and-click adventure fan looking for something new to play in a genre that sorely needs more new titles — just don’t expect too much originality in the story department.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 5/10
In some ways, Truberbrook is a breath of fresh air in the adventure game genre. Tight gameplay, interesting characters and environments, and laugh-out-loud humour make this game a joy to play in the moment. However, the story intrudes upon this moment-to-moment gameplay, reminding you of all its wasted potential.