Mini-Review: Faust / Seven Games of the Soul

Review written by Andrew Plotkin

Yes, I finally got the new computer -- a 933 MHz Powermac G4 -- and you know what that means: I can finally play the big adventure game releases of two years ago!

(Emulation. It's not a way of life; it's just kind of slow and cranky.)

This one really will be short. 'Cuz it's midnight already, and I don't feel like writing a full-up, all-aspects, many-to-many comparison review. I want to talk about style.

Faust is a strange and surreal little game. Now surreal is practically a cliche in adventure games -- Myst, The Dark Eye, Obsidian, Morpheus; the odd dreamlike scenario is a long-time friend to adventure gamers. (Not to mention horror adventure gamers; the console action-adventure market is particularly prone to the nightmare side of the surreal.)

But Faust manages to get away with a much lighter touch. Most commercial computer games are, let us stare it down, clumsily written. The point is well pounded into your head by the end. Even if the authors manage some subtlety in the ending (Morpheus comes to mind), the body of the game is overdone -- pumped up, sketchily attached to the plot, and generally managing to outweigh the story with a welter of puzzles and clever scenarios.

And Faust... okay, it's pretty clumsily written too. (Or clumsily translated -- but I suspect both. I'm used to games that are badly translated from Japanese; a game badly translated from French is a novelty, but it still furrows my brow every so often. Not so much the sense of the language -- that comes through fine -- it's the, the tone. I don't know. Something cultural goes badly wrong when you translate text, even if you get the meaning right. Gosh, I'm profound tonight. Translation Is Hard. For my next lesson, I will investigate how many splendored things love is.)

(Also, the guy who did the voice for Marcellus Faust gave me perceptual whiplash. The character is described by the game as "an old black man" -- this in Savannah, Georgia. His accent was not that. I'm sorry. Do better next time.)

I wander. Faust simply has a defter touch than I expected. Matters are unexplained... and then perhaps they are explained, but not painfully. The story touches the point and goes on. You may follow or not, as you will. Nothing is belabored.

I cannot but think that Cryo, that Arxel Tribe -- these European forces of computer adventure gaming -- are a good influence on the industry. Everyone assumes Americans are such idiots. It's nice to play something written not quite for idiots.

(Avert, avert, I have had my little cultural bigotry moment for the month. Just let it pass. It's late.)

This is not to say that Faust is uniformly graceful. It's an odd mix. One scene ends with a sudden and beautiful image of a sketched goddess, a haunting implication. Another ends with a two-frame cheapo animation of two tigers fucking. What? What?

But the story moves from image to image, story to story, each with its own angle and cast. There is no moral. You are, generally, left free to make up your own mind. Nothing is left quite unmixed -- and the Devil? Well, this is a game about the Devil.

The Devil puts in an appearance as late-night call-in radio host.

I liked it.

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