As someone who lives in the Sunshine State, it is curious to think about how relatively recently it was developed from swamplands into a civilized area. Florida attracts many tourists, but even its permanent residents can usually track their roots back to other states and cultures after a few generations. Growing up here allows you to meet a variety of people, a variety that I imagine is a rarity in places like New England, where Americans have been settled in for a few centuries. The folks at Grundislav Games and Wadjet Eye have attempted to capture the volatile time when the first groups of people flocked to the swamp to set up shop in A Golden Wake, a very traditional point and click adventure game that works overtime to establish its atmosphere and tell its story. Whether that story is well suited for the medium is another question, but the familiar setting will attract Floridians like me and those interested in interacting in the 1920s and 30s.
The story revolves around Alfie Banks, a real estate broker looking to team up with a mogul in Florida and expand his career. You eventually meet and greet with eager journalists, wagon toting hucksters, verbose airplane pilots, and gun toting assassins on your journey, but I was surprised by the lack of excitement this cast of characters brings to the table. Adventure games live and die by their eccentricities, and humor is practically baked into the genre’s DNA, but Golden Wake tries for a mostly serious approach with mixed results. There are certainly high points to the story, and the characterizations are spot on in the main cast, but the environments feel sparse without a character spouting witty banter at every click, and the side characters are exclusively cliches and plot devices that arrive and leave without making any impression at all.
Conversations and the art of persuasion take center stage in many of the game’s key moments. Alfie’s skill as a salesman allows him to change everyone’s mind when he needs to, or at least that’s the idea. In reality, the persuasion system relies on the player picking out the right responses to conversations in order to convince the other party. However, unlike in the similar gameplay of LA Noire, there is no going back once you chosen a path. There are instead alternate solutions if you fail to persuade, some of which add on busywork quests that punish all but the most attentive of listeners. I ended up doing several of these as I could never quite put my finger on what the developer was thinking in each situation. It’s a common problem in the adventure games that inspired this one, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
The rest of the gameplay is surprisingly linear for something that looks to have been made in the height of the Lucasarts days. Your item inventory is small and only used two or three times in any given level, and the locations are very broken up by a world map that makes everything seem small. Action scenes are also thrown in a few times, but they suffer from lack of proper explanation, leading to trial and error. There is little to no side dialogue to go into, and characters rarely have anything to say once their current story relevance has dried up. Combine that with the aforementioned sparse environments and the game’s relatively short length (4-5 hours at the very most) and you get a package that yearns to be in a classic style only to be limited by its release year and scope.
This all isn’t to say that A Golden Wake doesn’t have an audience. I’d say that this would be a fine game to look at in a classroom setting, particularly in the Sunshine State. It’s atmosphere and dialogue all feel authentic and evoke a mood that offers a contrast to just about any game out there. It is a shame that the characters and the world couldn’t live up to that atmosphere. They are a cast better suited for an edutainment title than an adventure game, and the title suffers from a lack of real personality. It is often sterile and strives for authenticity over enjoyability, which can be a noble pursuit, but its not one I wholeheartedly agree with. Still, if you are a history buff or a 30 something rocking Windows 95 who yearns for serious adventure games, A Golden Wake will certainly fit the bill. For most others, it will be a decent way to fill the void between episodes of Telltale fare and keep you clicking for a least a day or two.