The first hour or two of Pentiment made us want to chuck in the towel.
Thrown into the shoes of Andreas Maler, we wandered around the Bavarian town of Tassing on our way to work in the nearby Kiersau Abbey, and while the dialogue was occasionally witty, it struggled to hook us. ‘Just what is this game?’, we thought. Then it happened: a grisly murder. And just like that, we were suddenly drawn in. That is to say, persist with Pentiment, and chances are you’ll be hooked.
Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, Pentiment has many of the features you’d expect. There are dialogue options, for example, and while there isn’t a massive 3D world to explore, you are given a decent amount of freedom. It’s also up to you to decide Andreas’ traits and background, which may affect certain dialogue options and actions available to him. Chances are, your playthrough will be different to your friends’.
Staying in Tassing while working at the Scriptorium in Kiersau Abbey, Andreas soon becomes quite a notable figure within the community. With a noble found dead, and his friend fingered for the crime, he takes it upon himself to discover the truth. What’s interesting here, however, is that you’re not given all the time in the world to solve the crime.
Working against the clock, you’ve got to follow leads and investigate. If you can find some actual evidence, even better. Along the way, there’s social engineering to be done, and also a range of minigames. They’re not exactly fun, but they at least they break up the typical gameplay flow and provide a bit of variety. Ultimately, when the time comes, it’s up to you to present the information you’ve found. Needless to say, it’ll factor into who takes the fall for the crime.
But Pentiment doesn’t end there. It does, in fact, follow Andreas for a considerable period of his life. And just like how he changes, so does the town of Tassing and the Kiersau Abbey. You see them grow and develop in some ways, but also deteriorate in others. But one thing remains constant: Andreas’ determination to find the truth and help those that he cares for.
If you have a taste for narrative adventures that make you feel like you’re in charge of your destiny, there’s a good chance Pentiment will keep you gripped to your screen. Its writing is smart and often tackles serious subjects with tact, but it also has a playful side so as not to be overbearing. And it’s great to play a game where it feels like your choices and actions really do matter, and have an impact.
We think it looks rather nice, too, with an art style that makes every screen look like a drawing you’d find in a historical book. And while it’s a shame there’s no voice acting, it’s understandable given the sheer amount of text there is in the game. But there’s one thing that can’t be excused which brings the overall experience down: a general lack of music.
Don’t get us wrong: there is some music in Pentiment. It’s wonderful, even, but it’s used very sparingly. Most of the time, you’re going about your activities with only ambient noises to listen to, and they’re slight. What you’ll mostly be hearing are the scratch-like noises of quills hitting parchment to draw the text that appears on-screen. Soon it might drive you mad, forcing you to dig into the options menu to turn it down.
A nice bit of background music would work wonders for Pentiment, helping you get absorbed into its world and set the mood as you travel about and conduct your investigations. As it is, it just feels rather sterile and incomplete at times.
Still, while Pentiment doesn’t make the best first impression, and the lack of music robs it of atmosphere and character, it’s well worth digging into if you’re a fan of well-written narrative adventures or games that require you to conduct investigations. You’ll soon come to love – or loathe – its cast of characters, and with plenty of fun puzzles to solve, minigames to engage in and meaningful choices to make, it’s rewarding in ways that other games in the same genre space rarely ever manage.