Intriguing art design and neat use of photogrammetry techniques cannot elevate Truberbrook’s narrative to a place that provides a compelling adventure.
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 12, 2019 (PC), April 17 (PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch)
When I first heard about Truberbrook in a feature from our PAX East preview last year, I was intrigued and charmed by its style. Developer btf created a Kickstarter project to bring forth a story of an American quantum physics student Hans Tannhauser visiting the titular small mountain village on vacation in the summer of 1967, only to uncover a hidden mystery lying within.
Unfortunately, attempts to revitalize the magic of the classic point-and-click adventure genre fall flat, as the perfect summer vacation Truberbrook promises feels more like a by-the-numbers exploration of your comfortable, but familiar, backyard.
The game opens up with Hans traveling in a van up a gorgeous mountain, showcasing the developers’ key sense of environmental artistry. They crafted their background sets by hand, including the entire winding range seen above, allowing them to create some of the most finely detailed locales of the genre for this game.
It helps set the tone of a comfy, quiet town early, immersing the player in its charm. The citizens of the village are warm and inviting, though after Hans gets settled into his room, a mysterious intruder steals his quantum physics paper in the middle of the night. Hans enlists a visiting anthropologist, Gretchen Lemke, to help follow after the thief, only for them both to discover there’s a hidden secret buried deep within the mountain.
Truberbrook employs the traditional point-and-click adventure trappings, and yes, you will be pouring over every pixel to find the correct interactive object most of the time. However, the inclusion of an optional button that highlights background objects while also requiring logic to overcome each problem was a much-needed improvement to a decades-old formula. There are also dialogue options at certain times for certain characters, but few determine the outcome of any important plot device.
There are a few characters that help Hans on the way that are heartwarming and engaging in nature. Baron Otto-Titan von Truberbrook-Sulz is a lovely old German man whose life work in setting up the town gives context to the developing story. Hotel owner Trude is an eccentric, warm spirit who will do anything to help you out.
The problem is that these personalities are few and far between and, for the most part, Hans’ rather unassuming, unexcitable presence is expected to carry forth the majority of the game’s spirit. That’s a problem when you create a story that inevitably sets huge stakes yet never feels as important or urgent as it does on paper; you can only care about the story for so long.
For an adventure game to not tell an impactful narrative would be bad enough on its own, but the core gameplay elements don’t reinvent the wheel, either. There are two major “halves” to Truberbrook, with short interstitials taking Hans on a linear path between two wide-open sections of the game. Essentially, there are two “ongoing” puzzles to solve, requiring you to build an inventory and revisit areas you’ve once visited to make progress.
Truly, there is a lot of enjoyment in those two ongoing quests, as you have to use your wits to solve each problem and incrementally stack dominos to knock over. However, the linear Truberbrook sections are rather lackluster and rote, reminding you why this genre was long and dead for so many decades.
Marrying the story and gameplay elements together in harmony is the key to a great adventure game, but in Truberbrook, some of the story advancements seemed force to move the story along. For example, at one point in the game, you find a “massage wand” that is returned to its rightful owner. Without any reason or cause, the owner sees this as an opportunity for an item exchange that helps progress the story, except you have no reason to need or want the traded item beyond “story reasons.”
On the other side of things, sometimes Hans reacts to story events with a flippant sarcasm completely at odds with the situation. He often keeps notes in a voice recorder, and I recall one odd situation where Hans finds a grizzly scene and makes a joke about an event that he later describes to another character with the most somber and grim apologies.
Character motivations are often underdeveloped or unexplained, which hurts what is otherwise a compelling sci-fi adventure premise. As the story unwinds, the plot begins to rely on an engrossing series of scientific suggestions and theories, setting out to create a unique take. It doesn’t matter, though, when things happen in the story that isn’t rational to what we know about the characters. It also hurt that plot twists were obvious in their contrivances.
Most frustrating was one puzzle that required external knowledge from outside the game’s logic to solve. Because it required factual knowledge of history to determine an alluded-to unlock progression, I found myself stuck based on what I assumed to be correct, only to adjust after Googling specific eras in time. It goes against basic game development rules to do this, as you cannot fully learn the logic based on what the game tells you.
This brings us to the initial charm that brought me into wanting to check out Truberbrook; its art style. While the game does enjoy enchanting scenery, the implementation of recreating 3D renders of hand-crafted sets falls apart when taking objects into account. The image above looks okay when seen in low resolution, but if you look at it at full size through gameplay (right-click the image to see), you get a mess of poorly-aliased object models placed on a high-resolution backdrop.
This creates a disappointing disparity between what’s presented in promotional material and the end result, as the lighting effects are dramatically reduced to the point where you wonder what happened between Kickstarter pitch and a full release for the two art styles to not synch up properly.
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I wanted to fall in love with Truberbrook; I really did. There aren’t many German Cold War-era adventure games on the market these days, and the comfy atmosphere it presented invited me in with open arms. However, it was a moment where I was sitting in my chair as an in-game band played a long, unskippable song that I realized the end could not come soon enough.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.