Reunion tours are everywhere and whilst there’s usually only one good reason for a band to reform (hint: it’s money), whether they do get back together comes down to several factors. How much money? How much do they hate each other? Have they still got “it”, and probably the biggest stumbling block, is everyone still alive?
Unfortunately for top British band, The Deadbeats, no one is still alive. But that doesn’t stop band manager Francis Fincklestein, who gets a phone call to host a gig in a town he’s never heard of: Wailing Heights, where it turns out, not being dead is an offense. Finklestein then finds himself locked in the town prison, where a mysterious cellmate teaches him the power of possession allowing him to “body-hop” from ghost to vampire to werewolf to zombie to search for a way to get the hell out of Dodge. As it turns out the best way out is to get the band back together for one last gig, but since Fangs, Shaggy, Spectra & Z now hate each other, it all becomes a little more tricky.
Here’s what I liked:
Old but new – At its heart, Wailing Heights is a classic point and click adventure game, but this possession ability we learn at the start makes up the crutch of the gameplay. In order for Fincklestein to control a body he must first find out their name, one thing they love and one thing they hate. This involves steering conversations, finding hidden items and doing it all in the right order to solve the puzzle. Once you gain control of a body, you are able to elicit new conversations with NPCs that take you another step forward to the end goal, of possessing each band member and getting them to sign a contract. Each new body also comes with a special monster ability that can help solve puzzles. The ghost is able to eavesdrop on thoughts and private conversations, the vampire is able to fly high to reach previously locked areas, the werewolf has a super smell tracking ability and the zombie can talk to other zombies which will unlock new characters to talk to.
Groovy – Wailing Heights is a well-presented game with a fabby footstomping soundtrack. Each character that you earn the ability to possess comes with their own theme tune, be it a rap, a folk song or some good old fashioned soul. Of course for a game set in the music industry, it’s probably just as well that each song is catchy and enjoyable. Graphically, Wailing Heights is a little lo-tech but its comic book art style is quirky and fun and still stands out from the crowd. Along with a new theme tune, each character you possess also comes with their own backstory told through an animated comic strip that you can read again at your own leisure once unlocked. I also loved the game’s “Halloweenesque” setting with cool looking zombies, werewolves and vampires at every corner. Think The Addams Family mixed with Irish 90s movie The Commitments and you’re halfway to Wailing Heights.
Act 3 – I don’t want to give away too many spoilers but Act 3 changes up the playstyle significantly. It’s more of a recap of the previous story elements than a final chapter to the story. This part of the game probably has more in common with some end of term pop quiz than a traditional final boss battle, and in a way reminded me of some 60s sitcom where everyone comes back at the end to sing a song and wave goodbye. It’s complete nonsense, of course, but such a fun way to end a game.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Quality Control – For a game that prides itself on a thumping good soundtrack, the sound quality itself is pretty poor. The volume of voice lines is all over the place with some missing altogether. The acting itself is fine with lots of cool British accents, but some of dialogue sounds like it was recorded on a cheap baby monitor from inside the boot of a car…whilst wearing a surgical mask. I found that should you collide with another character whilst exploring, often they would get stuck on each other and it took some trial and error and some serious control stick wiggling to be able to move forward again. On one occasion I got completely glued to a piece of ground and ended up having to reload from the last checkpoint in order to continue. I also had a particularly bad game crash take me back to the Xbox dashboard after completing Act 2. On restarting I found I had to redo one conversation to trigger the end of the Act again, and fortunately the game loaded Act 3 successfully on the second try.
On Repeat – Switching between playable characters to elicit the right conversation is key to solving the games many puzzles. However this, by its very nature, sees the player click through a lot of repeated dialogue. The jokes might be entertaining the first time you hear them but there’s only so often the notion of a broccolitini cocktail for werewolves can be found funny. I also found that if I came to a dead end in the puzzle, sometimes the dialogue too would end, and I’d have to strike up the exact same conversation again in order to choose a different option.
Padded out – Whilst the game took me close to 10 hours to complete, there were actually very few areas in the game to explore. The length comes from a lot of repeated interactions as you need to converse with each NPC several times whilst in possession of various different playable characters. That, and walking speed is very slow. Even with each monster ability that allows you to float or fly slightly faster, it’s still pretty tedious getting around town. On top of this, if you find you are mid-conversation and need to switch to a different body, there’s a good chance you need to slowly walk through every playable area to the opposite side of town until you find where you left the body you are looking for. Sadly, there’s no quick change, you can only possess someone whilst standing next to them.
Whilst I enjoyed the game’s story, soundtrack and unique possession based puzzle system, Wailing Heights does suffer from too many quality issues to be a straight-up recommendation. The game in itself is short but seems to be dragged out by overly repeating conversations and environments. That said, if you can overlook the negatives, Wailing Heights is still a fun and memorable adventure game that should appeal to old school point and click fans and more so with the spooky season just around the corner.
Score: Reader’s Choice
Wailing Heights was developed and published by Outsider Games. It was released on August 15, 2018, for $11.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.