If you haven’t heard about Silence, it’s time you did.
Despite being unfamiliar with The Whispered World first time around (presumably it had a quiet reception – ha ha ha), this point and click sequel from Daedalic Entertainment had me murmuring approving noises at quite some volume. “Ooh” I exclaimed, at the stylised oil painting aesthetic. “Aah” I gasped, as it presented a considered treatment of convenient delusions versus troubling realities. I also made an “mmm” sound but that might not have been related.
Telling the story of teenager Noah and his younger sister Renie during an air raid, Silence quickly endears us to their heart-warming reliance upon one another. With his sister naturally distraught as she cowers from a bombing raid, Noah seeks to distract her. As the player you’ll help him along, exploring the shelter’s bric-a-brac for props and costume parts that might transport her somewhere safe, if only in her imagination.
When the shelter takes a direct hit and Renie is lost among the rubble, Noah escapes the bunker only to find himself in the dream world, desperately following the distant voice of his sister. This world, called Silence, is a fantastical realm evoking Henson’s Labyrinth in both appearance and theme. Finding Renie doesn’t conclude the tale by any stretch – what’s interesting here is that once she’s found, the game asks whether returning to the real world is even desirable, such as it is.
Noah’s very presence within this dream leads him to an existential crisis. Can he really be Renie’s brother, or is he merely an imagined facsimile in her fleeting dream? Player control is neatly passed to Renie as a cypher for this dichotomy, regularly switching between the two as they each wrestle with the meaning of their agency in this place. Renie herself is the creator of this world but, still, is her escape to it anything more than self-imposed entrapment? Silence’s own emerging socio-political problems hint that imagined utopias are just that – imagined.
To accompany Silence’s characters as they work through these reflections makes for an enticing tale. The narrative carries itself with a vital pace, especially considering Silence’s genre. Much is done to streamline the typical point and click barriers: there’s no inventory system for a start, with items instead appearing contextually when hovering a cursor over possible points of use. Locations are limited to a couple of screens at most, funnelling progress neatly. All of this maintains attention on story over mechanics.
I’ve already hinted at this, but Silence is also as visually resplendent a point and click as you are likely to see. The opening cinematic appears pre-rendered, but that’s thrown into doubt when you see in-engine performance segue from it seamlessly. It’s not simply a technical success, either – the art style carries a painterly warmth that’s uncommon among 3D graphics. Looking at a screenshot, it might be hard to parse that this is constructed from polygons at all. Just as Noah and Renie are seduced by Silence, so will you be.
Once you’re drawn in, it’s easy to want to finish Silence in a single sitting. And that is perfectly likely to happen – although it is well calibrated for an uninterrupted experience, the brief running time and the ease with which its puzzles can be completed make this a short-lived pleasure. But then, that’s the thing about dreams. We can’t stay in them, and that is what makes them special.
Silence – The Whispered World 2 was provided to us by Microsoft via a download code for Xbox One.