A Golden Wake: review

There’s a certain mystique to 1920s America, generally surrounded by the allure of the mob and the continued expansion that the nation was facing. There was a volatile mix of ingredients that make for some fascinating stories. Grundislav Games do a good job of telling one such story, though their execution is not without its drawbacks.

A Golden Wake tells the story of Banks, a real estate mogul from New York who relocates to Miami in order to make a name for himself. During his tale, he gets a few curveballs thrown his way, making for a highly sympathetic tale of the frustration of futility, and what lengths they can drive someone to. It’s written in a way that fosters this sense of empathy despite all of the morally questionable things Banks does to achieve his goals. This is mostly thanks to the dialogue which does a fantastic job of putting players in Banks’ shoes, justifying his choices even when they’re not necessarily the correct ones.

The game oozes the style of the 20s. Dialogue is written with era-appropriate words like “copacetic” that harken to the era, though it’s never done to an extent that sacrifices ease of understanding. The voice acting does a similar job of playing on players’ expectations based on mobster movies and the like, while the soundtrack features a lot of saxophone.

Like most games in the Wadjet Eye catalogue, A Golden Wake features the publisher’s trademark pixel art. While this doesn’t allow for a lot of expression or personality from the characters on a surface level, the voice acting picks up a lot of the slack here and injects the pixels with a host of personality: Banks’ enthusiasm swells in his speech, while Doc Dammer’s unapologetically skeezy voice acting does a great job of complementing the writing. Some inconsistent sound quality unfortunately harms a lot of this dialogue, and the presidential Merrick’s delivery is extremely flat and stilted.

The writing of the text also goes a long way in filling in the blanks. Descriptions provide a lot of detail thanks to excellent writing. Early on, examining a billboard will go into meticulous detail of “the model’s vacant stare gazing down upon you and your fellow pedestrians,” also bringing attention to the bustle of the street. It goes a long way in bringing some life to the game’s world.

These descriptions also set the scene on a more character-oriented level. Upon arriving in Miami, an examination of the train station tells the player about Banks’ uneventful trip and how it didn’t hinder his excitement, reinforcing the eager enthusiasm that he embodies.

While these are great ways of covering up the art style, it’s no excuse for it. More detailed visuals would only further complement these components with a higher level of fidelity, allowing for an even more immersive game. The animations are particularly jarring; movement is incredibly unnatural and everybody floats rather than walks.

Mechanically, A Golden Wake is fairly simple and doesn’t deviate too far from point and click conventions where it counts. Players simply have to left click to interact, right click to examine, or click on an item in their inventory to use it. It’s a welcome deviation from some of the more convoluted contextual menus present in other games.

There are a few gameplay systems present that focus on manipulating people or events into Banks’ favour using his silver tongue. It’s a devious sense of power that plays to our more wicked sides that want to lie, cheat, and steal our way to the top, and it can be just as exhilarating as a particularly powerful shotgun.

These take a few forms, but most of them centre around a system of persuasion that tasks players with appealing to their target’s particular personality traits. While it will generally tell you these particular characteristics through either dialogue or the Seller Intuition system, it still presents a challenge as the choices aren’t always obvious in their effect.

More traditional point and click puzzles are also present. While they generally veer away from anything too convoluted, there is one particularly egregious offender early on in the game. Players have to interpret a randomly generated date to derive a safe combination, but something like “January 5, 1913” becomes “1-0-5” rather than anything that makes sense; inserting the zero doesn’t really resonate with most players without it actually being present.

While most of the puzzles are disconnected, their paths intertwine to tie them into a singular, cohesive narrative. For example, you might go to the Men’s Club to hire a pilot and stumble upon an antenna required for a model train. This weaves everything together and makes for a constantly compelling game.

The game falters when it veers away from these traditional puzzles, however. There is an action sequence that involves driving a car beneath a plane, but the on-screen buttons are horribly unresponsive. Combined with the poor communication of which button accelerates or decelerates, it devolves into an exercise in frustration.

There are also a few technical issues. There are no resolution options, forcing the game to run in a tiny section of the screen surrounded by four huge black bars. There’s also no option to change the mouse sensitivity, forcing players to endure the sluggish cursor for the entirety of the game.

Technical issues and pixel art don’t hinder A Golden Wake’s ability to whisk players away to its stylish rendition of 1920s Miami, but it does make it somewhat less remarkable. While the world is immersive, the story compelling, and the characters interesting, it’s disheartening to know that it could be even more so.

critical score 7

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

One comment

  1. Adam, thanks for your review. But allow me to say: you’re being too neutral.
    Puzzles are very simple, and dumb (except from frustrating one’s). Story is dull, repetitive and uninteresting. Altho, esthetically its a nice game, with decent soundtrack and good voice acting. But lack of core story, and bas telling kills all the shine. Could’t make it thru all the game, lost interest for good. M.b. when I have really-really nothing to do…

    Bastard child of Wadget Eye. After Primordial its very hard to meet the quality.

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