House on Fire’s 2012 release The Silent Age may have taken the long route to come into existence on PC, but was it worth the wait? Kim takes a look at this science-fiction adventure.
|Name:||The Silent Age|
|Developer:||House on Fire|
|Release date:||December 2012 to October 2014, two episodes|
|PEGI rating:||Not listed|
|Platforms:||Android, iOS, Mac, PC|
|More information:||Official website|
House on Fire was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2011 and is an independent developer dedicated to ‘creating quality user experiences for primarily mobile devices’. They released the first episode of point-and-click adventure The Silent Age for mobile platforms shortly afterwards in December 2012, followed by the second instalment in October 2014; and a full release for Mac and PC was published on Steam in May 2015. The game may have taken the long route but was it worth the wait?
Funnily enough, it was my mum who initially introduced me to the title a few years ago. She’d just received an iPad as a gift for Christmas and thought The Silent Age might be something I’d enjoy after playing it for herself. I mentally filed the name away with the intention of checking it out but, as is the case with life, got distracted by other video game releases. When it came up in the recent Steam winter sale I finally made the purchase and then completed it in one sitting: this little release was more than worth the price I paid for it.
Players step into the shoes of Joe, a janitor working for Archon in 1972. It’s not entirely clear what the organisation does but when your boss sends you to the basement laboratory to clean up and you find a dying man covered in blood in a locked room, things take a darker turn. His story of being from the future sounds like a tall tale but he begs you to find his other self, to warn him about his death. With a handheld time-travel device in your hands and the fate of humankind on your shoulders, it’s up to Joe to jump forward to the apocalyptic future of 2012 and save the world.
As the game progresses so does Joe’s confidence and in certain sections his sense of humour comes through.
The janitor is quite an intriguing character: he really is an ‘everyday Joe’. He’s so used to having things dumped on him from a great height that he never questions why his every move is blocked by yet another problem, and instead worries that he’s not up to the task of resolving them. As the game progresses so does his confidence and in certain sections his sense of humour comes through. For example, during a sequence where it’s necessary to steal a disco-ball from an underground nightclub, he makes the following comment: “With all the rugs, syringes and burning branches I’ve put to good use lately, I’m starting to trust by sense of what might come in handy. And that bad boy is definitely coming with me.”
The plot runs at a tightly-controlled pace with a number of subtle clues placed right in front of you as our hero concentrates on more immediate issues, such as opening locked doors and repairing a vehicle. These point to the nice twist at the end; players will see it coming if they pay attention to the signs but even so, it’s still rather emotional when it arrives. A short epilogue follows on from this and my feelings about it are a little mixed. On one hand, it almost detracts from the finale by reducing the drama – but on the other, it’s good to see our janitor have a somewhat happier ending.
Very slight spoiler ahead:
The Silent Age’s title is very fitting for a number of reasons. At the start we view flashbacks of Joe as a painter in 1965, a soldier in 1968, a sign-holder in 1969 and a toilet cleaner in 1971 – all jobs which saw him alone either physically or mentally. His current role at Archon is shared with colleague Frank until he disappears; 2012 is an eerily-uninhabited and disturbing place; and the finale results in the janitor having to shut himself off from everyone. Fast-forward to the end scenes and we see him on a train, at a museum and in a call centre. Joe has had this amazing and terrifying experience but it’s one those around him will never truly know about and he’s always alone, regardless of how many people he’s surrounded by. A comment by Anders Petersen in an article on the official website sums it up perfectly: “I wanted to make Joe a kind of tragic character, but with the important distinction that he isn’t really all that aware of it.”
It’s all very simple and easy to pick up.
The Silent Age is a well-designed title, and the fact that it’s so streamlined means that there isn’t a lot to talk about (in a good way) when it comes to the user-interface. The cursor changes from a cross to a circle when items Joe can interact with are uncovered within the environment reducing any need for pixel-hunting. Your inventory is shown in a bar along the bottom of the screen, and items are used by selecting and clicking on the relevant location in the janitor’s surroundings. It’s all very simple and easy to pick up.
Your time-travel device can also be found alongside your inventory and here’s the game’s core mechanic: the machine is at the heart of most puzzles. Your first task is to find a way to charge it as it works using solar power, but once you’ve solved this you’re able to jump between the brightness of 1972 and desolation of 2012 with a quick press. Sometimes the obstacle standing in your path can be surmounted by switching between times: for example, a locked door in the present may no longer be there in later years. The one time I got stuck was because I hadn’t time-travelled in a certain location and had therefore missed a crucial object.
It’s possible to carry items between times in order to solve challenges. For instance, the disco-ball from the seventies nightclub can be used in the future to shed light on a certain matter. On the positive side there are no bizarre object combinations and all solutions are logical: when fixing that vehicle mentioned above you’ll find exactly what you need in a car battery, tyre and tyre-iron. The downside is that some challenges feel artificially-lengthened due to the amount of backtracking involved, particularly towards the end of The Silent Age.
Some puzzles require the player to think about the consequences of time-travelling, and how their actions in the present may affect the future.
There are a couple of puzzles that make up for this however as they require the player to think about the consequences of time-travelling, and how their actions in the present may affect the future. At one point Joe needs to find an apple for a stressed scientist who’s been put on an all-fruit diet to help with his blood-pressure; the janitor questions whether his solution involving a mouldy core will work but it’s extremely logical (even if the premise for needing the apple in the first place is a little flimsy!). More moments such as this one would have elevated the game even further.
I said above that The Silent Age is very easy to pick up and play, but experienced adventure gamers may find this one a little too easy. It’s not that House on Fire’s release should be considered a ‘casual’ title because it’s a mobile port – the game is clever in many ways and requires some thought to progress through – but it’s very linear and all objects needed to get through challenges are easily within reach. That being said however, the intriguing storyline will likely be enough to pull most players through and the plot-twist at the end serves as a nice reward.
Visuals and audio
The visuals are one of the high-points of The Silent Age. They’re stylised and very distinctive: smooth gradients are favoured over detail resulting in a look that’s clean and attractive – similar to the visual style used for LA Cops, released in full last year. Subtle environmental effects, such as rain drops trickling from a leak in the ceiling and dust motes floating in the air add interest and movement to the environment, making the game a joy to look at.
Items are in almost the same place, giving the eerie sensation that whatever damaged the world happened fast.
The difference between the worlds of 1972 and 2012 is pleasing. The current day is bright, with loud seventies-style patterns and vibrant colours, and the time-traveller’s home in the swampland is particularly striking (there’s even a lava lamp). The future is in complete contrast: the same fixtures and fittings can be found in each location but they’re faded, broken, cracked and weather-worn. The fact that items are in almost the same place gives the eerie sensation that whatever damaged the world happened fast.
As to be expected for a released titled The Silent Age, the soundtrack is restrained and understated but does everything it needs to. Much of it is ambient noise and after playing the game for an hour or two, I forgot it was there. Subtle sound-effects such as rain-drops add to the unsettling atmosphere and short voiceovers have been introduced in the PC version, fleshing out Joe’s character. In a discussion thread on Steam the developer states: “It’s about how sound, music, visuals, story and puzzles work together to create something unique.”
Replay and innovation
As is the case with a lot of releases in the adventure genre, The Silent Age doesn’t contain an immense amount of replayability value as the storyline is linear and puzzle solutions remain the same after completion. That being said however, I can see myself returning to it on a rainy afternoon at some point in the future to enjoy the story once more. There are also 24 achievements available through Steam so trophy-hunters may choose to dive back in to certain chapters for a second go.
There’s nothing that makes the PC version feel like an iOS port.
While on one hand House on Fire’s title isn’t particularly innovative for an adventure, on the other it does a lot of things extremely well. There’s nothing that makes the PC version feel like an iOS port and for a mobile game, the quality of the graphics, atmosphere, storyline and writing is exceptional. Here’s a little release that players can very easily get immersed in on their mobiles during their daily commute – and it’s even better when played in the dark wearing headphones, as recommended by the developer.
Screenshots and videos
The Silent Age received the Indie Prize for Best Game Narrative at Casual Connect in February 2013 and was nominated for the Nordic Game Awards in the category for Best Artistic Achievement in April of the same year. Add that to the fact that it has received over seven-million downloads according to the official website and 95% of the reviews received on Steam are positive, and it’s clear to see that it has many fans.
Does this mean it should be included in future 1001 lists? I’ll give the answer as a tentative ‘yes’ for now. At the present time it definitely deserves a place for its deep science-fiction storyline and lovely visuals, but the simplistic puzzles and limited replay value could mean that some gamers come away a little dissatisfied. Regardless: it’s still a great example of what mobile titles can achieve and I’m glad I finally managed to get around to playing it.
It’s well worth checking this one out if you’re a lover of the adventure genre.
At between four and five hours in terms of gameplay, The Silent Age is a perfect game to while away a rainy afternoon or a long commute. It’s well worth checking this one out if you’re a lover of the adventure genre.
|Source:||We purchased the game from the Steam winter sale for £1.74|
|Positive:||A short but compelling sci-fi story wrapped up in gorgeous 70s visuals|
|Negative:||Experienced adventurers may find the game a little too easy|
|Score:||39 out of 60|
|Grade:||Worth a look|