I am going to do a disservice to this game by leading off with an unfavorable comparison to Disco Elysium, for which I wrote:

The core gameplay is... extant? The dialog checks and branching logic were more of a useful delivery mechanism than anything fun in of itself.

If Disco's gameplay loop was 'meager', Pentiment's is microscopic: you get a couple background choices (did you spend time in Flanders or in London?), but that's about it. The game, like Disco, is a series of explorations and conversations — those explorations and conversations have even fewer branches and choices than Disco does, and the game is best understood as a choose-your-own-adventure novel with the world's biggest dose of panache.

And that panache! The interface, the aesthetic, the writing — it is all very, very good. The game is a visual novel and takes full advantage of both words in that phrase. I am reminded of Middlemarch in terms of how this game so delicately and deliberately weaves its narrative: the scope of your pathos very quickly and very broadly shifts from being centered on the protagonist to being deeply invested in the entire town and abbey with whom you cavort. Every single character is realized in a way that is rare not just in a game but in any piece of art.

Pentiment is a better novel than it is a game, I think, and it's hard not to review it through that lens: it has lovely, wise things to say about the nature of memory, of community, and of sin & redemption. It is a deeply emotional experience, and the plot twists (so to speak) [1] hit you well. The ending is deeply warm and redeeming.

I am not a big "walking simulator" kind of guy (I hold nothing against them, I just don't find them fun) and the gameplay part of this really dragged for me, especially once you have a better sense of the rhythm of the game. Unlike Disco, too, you can occassionally sense the seams of the branching dialogue structure — you'd have a conversation with person A and then a conversation with person B whose context should rely on that first conversation, but doesn't. It's not a dealbreaker, but it's a little jarring when it does.

Go into this game knowing that it is a novel and not a video game, and you will be rewarded. It is a beautiful, beautiful experience.

  1. I am proud of myself for correctly guessing the identity of the killer, though I ascribe that to having watched so many episodes of Poirot. ↩︎


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