The Moment of Silence

Developer:  House of Tales
Publisher:  Digital Jesters
Year Released:  2004

Review by Steve Metzler (November, 2004)
I'd imagine the convesation would go something like this, had I no prior knowledge of what was in store:

Me: "European developer, game translated to English. Dialogue must be pretty ropey then, right?"
Nameless, faceless adventurer (NFA): "Er... no. Dialogue and voice acting are top notch. Front row. Right up there with the best, actually."
Me: "OK, then the puzzles must be a bit quirky?"
NFA: "Um... no. Spot on. They're all logical. Fit in with the story. And they're challenging.
Me: "Interface problems then? There must be. It goes with the territory!"
NFA: "Ahem... no, sorry to disappoint you. Nothing to complain about there."
Me: "Story? [tone more timid now] It can't possibly have an intriguing story... can it?!"
NFA: "Ah... yup. It has good pacing too. And you can really identify with the central characters."
Me: "Sigh. I suppose it's worth a shot then, huh?"
NFA: "Yeah... you really wouldn't want to miss this one!"

Of course, I'm using a bit of poetic licence there in the opening. There have been a number of adventure games recently from European developers that stand head and shoulders above games produced anywhere else on the planet: Benoit Sokal's Syberia, and Funcom's The Longest Journey spring immediately to mind. But I suppose what I'm trying to say is: The Moment of Silence could be the next big one. At least for me, it is possibly the best adventure game to come down the pike since Pandora Directive, and that's no mean feat!

Big Brother
There have been many variations on the bleak future that was painted by George Orwell in his seminal work 1984, but I can assure you that few are as compelling as this one. The year is 2044, and as you may surmise, the world is now characterised by an over-reliance on digital technology. Everyone has a personal computer tied into the ubiquitous GlobalNet, and a personal Messenger (mobile phone) that is the only means of hiring a taxi, paying the bills, etc. As the game opens, its protagonist, Peter Wright, hears a commotion in the hall of his apartment building and looks out the peephole, only to see his neighbour being hauled away by a SWAT team. You take control of Peter as he seeks to comfort his neighbour's wife and son, and so begins a journey of discovery as you try to unravel the mystery that led to Graham Oswald's arrest. The first thing you learn is that the offical police story is one of denial...

It turns out that Peter works for an advertising agency and... well, maybe it has always been this way, but they are no more than thinly disguised puppets of whatever government happens to be in power. Their latest campaign involves the supposed combatting of terrorism by pushing a government referendum that, if passed, will outlaw all forms of cryptography. And that's all I dare tell you about the story line. The most singular thing about how this game is put together is that you don't know a whole lot about Peter's situation at the beginning of the game, only that he is on leave from work. But as you talk to his neighbours, colleagues, and some of the eccentric characters he meets through the course of the game, only then do the pieces of Peter's life begin to assemble into a cohesive whole. I have rarely seen this plot device executed as well, possibly only in one other game - the magnificent Planescape: Torment.

Talk to me
There are at least three conversations you will have with characters in this game that are so poignant as to defy description. We are talking jaw-dropping here. The voice acting is very competent and crystal clear, and the background music in one instance is a sort of techno funk that brings out all the anger of the individual you are speaking to. Peter Wright himself sounds a lot like George Clooney, and I suppose you could do worse. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit obtuse, being translated from a foreign language, and the words in the subtitles deviate occasionally from the spoken words, but overall I consider it to be a stellar effort. The way the dialogue tree is implemented is not exactly innovative, but it highlights choices you have already made, so it's quite serviceable. You can hit the Esc key to fast forward through dialogues you've already been through in case you accidentally select one. And the dialogue, aside from the occasional voice-over in a cut scene, is completely subtitled if you turn that feature on in the options menu. The music is absolutely superb, and I have rarely heard sound that was so crisp and free of noise.

Picture this
Graphically speaking, the world portrayed in The Moment of Silence is equally impressive. The cut scenes are well executed and very dramatic. In game, you control Peter Wright in the third person. The game is presented in the middle two thirds of the screen, with subtitles appearing at the top (does that make them 'above-titles'?), and your inventory at the bottom. Right-clicking on any item in the inventory gives you a nice description, with subtitles. Left-clicking selects an item for use in the game world. Objects that you can pick up are clearly labelled with a text tag, so you can tell what you're picking up. This is an important thing that developers don't always get right, so kudos to House of Tales for that. There was only one thing I didn't like about the graphics. When you are moving Peter to a hotspot, there is only one animation provided. So you will see Peter walk all the way back to the spot where the animation starts, and then proceed from there to the hotspot. Quite disturbing at first, but I have seen this in a few other games and you learn to live with it. Navigation can also be a bit tricky. Often you must manouvre Peter to an exact spot in order to progress to the next screen. However, House of Tales have thoughtfully provided a hint key that shows all possible exits from a scene, so you can use that to get out of places where the navigation is complicated.

The puzzling bit
The puzzles in The Moment of Silence are a good mix between conversation and inventory based. The conversation puzzles are interesting in their own right because the dialogue is so good, but essentially amount to covering off all dialogue paths until you discover what you need to progress in the game. The inventory puzzles are pretty much a class act. They are never illogical, but sometimes you will need to combine objects in inventive ways. You must also remember to click on everything that can be examined in every scene. But really, this is just standard adventure game advice. The final puzzle requires a bit of lateral thinking, and also some virtual legwork, in order to formulate a viable solution strategy... but that's what we adventure gamers seemingly live for, right?

So what's not to like? If you're easily offended, there's a humourous usage of New York Spanish street slang in one scene that might ruffle your feathers, but it's not even remotely as offensive as some of the patter in, for instance, The Longest Journey. One thing you'll surely run afoul of though, is a show stopping problem if you don't download and apply the Update 1.01 patch before playing. There's a vital clue to a puzzle that is transcribed incorrectly until you apply this patch. Funny, but even though it's a significant issue the Digital Jesters forum kind of downplays it. I suppose they didn't want to spoil the game by making the explanation more explicit? I only twigged it because I had taken a screenshot of the text in question before applying the patch. It did cost me an hour's worth of head scratching though.

The Moment of Silence is the second offering from German developer House of Tales, a big step up from the rather patchy effort that was Mystery of the Druids. And congratulations are also in order for publisher Digital Jesters, who I believe have a potential hit on their hands. So pass the word around, fellow adventurers. This is one not to miss!

Note: If you have the North American release of The Moment of Silence from The Adventure Company then you do not need the patch.

See the Moment of Silence walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Metzler 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, PII 450, 64MB RAM, DirectX 9 compatible 32MB 3D graphics card, DirectX 9 compatible sound card, 2X DVD-ROM (yes, that's DVD, not CD!)