German-speaking point-and-click adventure fans may have heard of The Book of Unwritten Tales, as it was released two years ago in Germany to critical acclaim. It may have taken a while, but the game is finally coming to English-speaking territories with a full voice and text localisation, the first two chapters of which we have been able to get our grubby hands on. And, as both a parody of and tribute to point-and-click adventure games and the fantasy genre in general, it's looking mighty impressive indeed.
In the first two chapters, The Book of Unwritten Tales follows two main characters - Wilbur, a friendly gnome who dreams of becoming a hero, and Ivo, a sexy female elf who is probably the most competent character we encountered, although she doesn't seem to be a fan of dressing warmly. The plot is set in motion by a gremlin archaeologist, amusingly by the name of MacGuffin, who is captured by some evil-bad-guy types. He encounters Ivo, imploring her to find an ancient book kept at his home, before dropping in on the diminutive Wilbur, giving him a seemingly innocuous piece of jewellrey that could change the course of the war between the heroic Alliance and the evil Army of Shadows.
Alright, it's the One Ring. They even call it that in the game, although its ultimate function does turn out to be quite different to Frodo's secret addiction, and actually turns out to be a parody of yet another pop culture phenomenon. The Book of Unwritten Tales is unashamedly a spoof, although thankfully it's not one in the vein of such... classics... as Epic Movie or Meet the Spartans. The humour is generally quite subtle and well integrated, preferring to leave you with a smile on your face throughout rather than throwing gags at the wall to see what sticks. Some great comic situations arise throughout the game, including trying to get some hardcore-online RPG players to leave their 'computers' and dealing with the Grim Reaper, who's upset that he's stuck in an adventure game where nobody ever dies. A working knowledge of fantasy pop-culture at large, and perhaps some more specific experience with Warcraft and Discworld are vital to getting the most out of the experience.
The Book of Unwritten Tales also presents a really fleshed out fantasy world of its own, with beautiful locations, interesting devices and a seemingly deep mythology, that is revealed throughout the course of the experience. It's a world where dwarven bars and slime monsters can co-exist with steampunk robots, cannon-based flying machines and monkey-driven computers. There is a very definite feel of Discworld about the experience, but the atmosphere feels closer to Bone or the recent adventure game The Whispered World. The high resolution graphics are a mix of 3D models against pre-rendered backgrounds and animations, and it all meshes quite nicely (although there were a few low resolution glitches in our playthrough, but it could be due to our setup or the preview build).
From the first two chapters, we can assume it's a lengthy experience as well. It took us over six hours to get through, and that's with our itchy dialogue skip finger. There's a lot of stuff to do in this world, and you're often given complex strings of fetch quests to achieve your objective. Here's one example - Wilbur needs to give the Ring to an arch-mage in a tower. The guard won't let you into the tower unless you're a mage, so off you go to mage school to become a mage, only to find the mage professor is busy playing WoB (the World of Warcraft of this world). So you need to get him off the game, but once you've done that, you still need to find three items to cover your enrolment. Once you've done that, you're still not finished, as you then need to complete three tasks to pass your exams, which require you to collect a powerful artefact, learn a magic trick and die. And this is just to get through a door to give a ring to a guy. However, the sharp writing, interesting characters and puzzles all help to make the busy work feel like no work at all.
Adventure game fans have been treated well lately, with a wealth of games like Grey Matter, The Whispered World and even Telltale's Back to the Future bringing the genre back to prominence for gamers who appreciate story and strong puzzles. The Book of Unwritten Tales is yet another game for them to look forward to, and from what we've seen we can't wait to play the rest of it ourselves.