A Golden Wake (PC)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Saturday, October 11, 2014

One of the things I like the most about the adventure genre is its willingness to explore territory that games aren’t common in video games. While a lot of action titles have gone for similar themes, there are a lot of different settings and narrative styles in adventure games. This is one of the main elements that drew me to A Golden Wake, the newest title from publisher Wadjet Eye Games and first commercial project for Grundislav Games. The game is set in 1920s Florida during the peak of the land boom, and players step into the role of Alfie Banks as he tries to make a name for himself in the real estate world. It’s the enticing setting that should draw fans of the genre to this game, but the tightly woven narrative and compelling characters will keep them interested until the very end.

Grundislav has based the majority of the characters and some of the in-game sequences on real life events, and you can tell that they’ve done a significant amount of research when crafting the story for A Golden Wake. The result is that players are immediately drawn in to Coral Gables, which is a new town near Miami being developed by real estate tycoon George Merrick. Alfie Banks is a fairly regular guy who has been working for a real estate agency in New York City, only to be framed by his coworkers which results in his dismissal from the position. He reads about the Coral Gables project in the paper and decides to head down there and make a name for himself, hoping to use his abilities to quickly rise up the ranks. Initially things seem quite promising, as Alfie works his way into the firm and makes fairly big things happen.

I was expecting A Golden Wake to spend a significant amount of time chronicling Alfie’s arrival in Coral Gables and how he was able to work his way through Merrick’s company, but was surprised to find that the story covers a significant span of time from one scene to the next. It took me about five hours to reach the end, and in that period of time quite a few years had already passed from when Alfie first arrived in Florida. The narrative moves fast, and while I did appreciate that it was well contained and didn’t linger on pointless details to pad out the game there were some moments that seemed a bit rushed and could have used additional character development. While things start off looking up for Alfie and Coral Gables, as you progress through the story the events take a surprisingly darker turn and gangsters become involved. I don’t want to spoil too much, but while the story remained engaging and it was interesting to watch a fairly normal man become involved in some questionable situations, the fast flow of the narrative made some of the decisions seem a bit strange. There are some choices that Alfie makes that seem rather abrupt and out of character based on the scene that came before it, and while they may make sense with how much time has passed between the two, a bit more exposition for the in-between bits would have helped to significantly flesh things out.

Though this may be one of the game’s flaw, I have to admit that one of the main reasons it stood out as an issue was because the cast and setting was so enticing. Alfie starts the game off as your average guy, trying to make a big name for himself in the roaring 20s. Early on he seemed just a little too straight and narrow, but there’s a surprising amount of moments where he’s willing to bend the rules just slightly to get ahead. Over time some of these decisions start to seriously affect his life and take them in a very negative direction, making A Golden Wake just as much of a character study as a title about a particular time period. The supporting cast that’s mainly inspired on real life figures are all interesting to follow too, particularly some of the more outgoing ones like Doc Hammer who are behind getting the first streetcar involved in the city. All of the background info and neat little story bits Grundislav delivered drew me into the world, and that’s why I wanted to spend just a bit more time in it and not just have massive jumps between years from one story scene to the next.

A Golden Wake was developed in Adventure Game Studio, so the interface should feel familiar for anyone that has played any of the titles created with that software. Everything is handled in the point and click style, and you can either interact with or look at different objects and people depending on whether you right or left click. Items can be used or combined directly in your inventory, and everything worked without any major glitches. For the most part the puzzles revolve around combining the right item with another to progress, but there are a number of different elements that stand out. During certain parts of the game, you’re tasked with selling real estate to people as well as convincing them to adopt a certain viewpoint. During the selling sections players must read what each buyer’s desired elements of a property are and then match the appropriate one over to them. During the persuasion sections, players must observe a person’s appearance and then move through the correct dialogue trees to convince them to do something. These elements take Alfie’s selling background into account, and give the game a bit more to do than just combining a few items here and there or solving a slider puzzle, which is so common for the adventure genre.

At the same time, there are a few frustrations to the puzzles the game utilizes. I’ve seen a lot of people say that many of them are far too easy for this genre, but that wasn’t something that bothered me as I’ve always been drawn more towards the narratives than extremely difficult brain teasers. Admittedly this also made me get stuck on a few of the situations because I was overthinking the solution and was so used to the convoluted methods many of the other adventure titles employ. But what I wasn’t crazy about was the car driving action sequence a little ways into the game as well as the false illusion of choice. Early on you are tasked with driving a car for a stuntwoman and the puzzle involves using arrow selector keys to move to the right position at the right time. It’s less action oriented than it initially appears and doesn’t require twitch reflexes, but the AGS engine makes the movement feel a bit awkward and when you move the vehicle it doesn’t seem to go exactly where you expect it to on the screen. Aside from this, there are also a few sections where the game presents Alfie with a dialogue choice that lets him reveal the truth or keep it hidden. I was hoping that this might change the flow of the story slightly, but was disappointed to discover that both options result in the same exact result.

Like many of the other Wadjet Eye published games, A Golden Wake utilizes pixel art that gives the title a bit of a retro look. While this has become fairly common once again with plenty of developers opting for an old-school approach, Grundislav has used it to their advantage by packing a significant amount of detail into each scene. The pixelated Florida locales are all interesting to explore, and it looks like the character portraits for those based on real life people were based on their actual portraits, which makes them look and feel authentic in-game. Throughout the entire play time I got the impression that a lot of attention to detail and care was put into every single location, and it’s for this reason that I continue to prefer this style of graphics for adventure titles over some of the awkward 3D engines powering others. One thing worth noting is that the game is set to fullscreen by default and it doesn’t upscale to higher resolutions, meaning you’ll be playing with black bars around the edges of the screen. I suspect this has to do with the way Adventure Game Studio functions as Quest for Infamy had a similar setup for resolutions, though it was set to windowed by default instead of fullscreen. It wasn’t something I had an issue with and it’s likely you can edit settings through configuration files if needed, but is worth mentioning as I know some people like proper fullscreen support in their PC games.

Composer Peter Gresser has written some fantastic background music for the game that not only matches the time period perfectly, but is catchy enough that you may find yourself pausing during certain scenes just to listen to the songs. This came as a pleasant surprise, as it isn’t often that the soundtrack in a game of this style is strong enough that I want to give it my full attention and not just have it serve as pleasant background material as I solve each of the puzzles. As with the graphics, you can tell that Gresser has an attention to detail when it comes to making the tracks fit the music from that time period, adding to the authenticity. In addition to the music, all of the characters in the game are voiced. Grundislav was able to use a casting process to get qualified actors and actresses for the roles, and as a result A Golden Wake sounds much more professional than some of the other independent adventure titles. They do a great job of selling you on these characters, particularly the actor for Alfie Banks who portrays the nuances as he descends from bright and full of hope to jaded and cynical. Should you decide that the voice acting isn’t for you, there is an option to play through with just text. One additional feature that’s really neat is full developer commentary. This option can be enabled right from the start, though I would recommend that you wait until a second play through to avoid spoilers. It gives a lot of insight into the development process and the research that went into the game, and is a fantastic inclusion that I wish more games were able to offer.

Despite the fact that some of the events in A Golden Wake seemed to go by too quickly and the time skips made some of the character decisions seem a bit too abrupt, this is a game I really enjoyed spending time with. It has a setting not often covered in video games or film and an engaging cast that is based on real life people, as well as an unexpected shift from a bright and hopeful narrative to a much darker one. Grundislav Games has produced a winner, and while there are still elements that they can continue to improve on for future titles the real estate business in Coral Gables is worth diving into in A Golden Wake.


A Golden Wake

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