Can you hear it?
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, silence is “the absence of speech or noise.” Therefore a moment of silence would be a moment, in the middle of a possibly loud and zany day, when there is no speech or any kind of sound. It is in our nature as human beings often to resist silence. Silence makes people uncomfortable. When we speak, we often fill in the gaps with some noise, a grunt, an interrogative, an “ah,” an “oh,” maybe even a belch. As a teacher, I can see the fear of silence hover like a thick fog in the classroom. Ask a question, and silence follows. Some students tap their pencils; some shake their legs; others’ eyes wander aimlessly in search of a volunteer. The enigmatic and brooding nature of pure silence permeates House of Tales’ newest and second venture into the realm of adventure games in The Moment of Silence.
A typical American kid might wonder why a designer would make a game dedicated to a moment of emptiness, an entire game about an uncomfortable void dangling in the air. After a few hours with this game, however, I soon realized Martin Ganteföhr of House of Tales did not produce yet another waste of space, as seen in HoT’s fluffy first attempt, Mystery of the Druids. TMOS, instead, draws upon the foundations of an age-old Eastern adage, an adage much of our own culture could afford to understand: silence is not emptiness. Quite the opposite in fact; The Moment of Silence has substance. Lots of it.
The game opens up in the year 2044, after a night of drinking several heavy and hard substances, oddly enough. With a nagging hangover, you--as Peter Wright--awake to a disturbingly invasive police raid down the hall. You watch passively from behind a closed door, peering out safely through a peephole. A neighbor is shuffled away under the weight of a militaristic gun, leaving you baffled and mystified. Peter, a man in much need of spiritual guidance after the dramatic loss of his wife and child in a plane crash, decidedly breaks his neighborly silence and strives to uncover the mystery before him. Bit by bit, a big-brother conspiracy unfolds…or is it all an urban legend, a story told during troubled times to fill the silence in the streets?
Unlike the previous House of Tales effort, Mystery of the Druids, the story in TMOS is concrete, carries truly tangible meaning in today’s world and fascinates with depth and a brooding pace. Instead of the obvious Druidic evil priests found in MOTD, players must face a faceless, odorless, seemingly silent and far more ominous threat. TMOS presents players with an immediate feel of sophistication in its subtleties, slower pace and political commentary. Yet, a fascinating world to explore can only be as fascinating as the character through which you explore it.
Peter Wright is not a cardboard cutout. In every possible way, Peter is much more “Wright” than Brent Halligan of Mystery of the Druids. The hollow Halligan, like a sponge, simply soaks up the things around him. Peter Wright, on the other hand, has substance and turns The Moment of Silence from a simple political crime caper into a man’s personal journey for individual salvation. He’s a good guy: reserved, human, experiencing trauma, empathic, faulted, even flustered. He’s the kind of guy you’d love to meet face-to-face, the kind of guy who’d hold the door open and smile as you passed. In my review of Mystery of the Druids, I commented on Brent Halligan’s simple disrespect for people in general and, more specifically, for his cruel treatment of a homeless man. Surely, Martin Ganteföhr had a moment of silence as he read my pointed and stark criticism: he listened.
House of Tales changed its game style for the better, so clearly and decisively responding to player feedback that it is almost as if they had set up a surveillance unit in my home, implanted a microchip in my brain and read my mind. I smiled as I played TMOS and heard Peter Wright actually criticize the unfair treatment of the homeless people at JFK airport. If you have any doubts about House of Tales' ability to grow and learn from its audience, keep them to yourself; you never know who’s listening.
The engrossing moments you spend sitting in front of your monitor, enthralled by the low-key big-brother-society plot, will be spent digging into the mystery surrounding Peter Wright and his work on a Freedom of Speech ad campaign. Wright’s investigation, negotiation and conversation skills are the primary focus of the adventure and its puzzles. In a sense, Peter Wright is what would happen if Sherlock Holmes and James Bond had a child together somewhere in the near future. The majority of the puzzles in The Moment of Silence are inventory-based, also making Peter quite the packrat. He collects just about anything deemed somewhat useful and packs them neatly away in his charcoal gray leather jacket: scraps of paper, old radio tapes, birds, and even a hooker’s business card.
Most of the times, these items have useful and common sense applications. Whereas Mystery of the Druids had players working in the most roundabout ways, starting fires, using fingerprint kits, etc., TMOS is extremely straightforward and direct. Many of your inventory actions require exchanges with other characters, with children, hackers, electricians, just about anyone who can help Peter acquire true information. Oddly enough, as much as these straightforward chores can, at times, feel slightly tedious, they do reinforce the political corruption surrounding Peter Wright. The game runs about 25 hours and requires you, as the player, to do what is necessary to thrive in such a grim, self-righteous future society: kiss butt, strike deals and keep secret after secret after secret. These tasks are often fairly linear, so you’ll need to kiss butt in a particular order, and no matter how much adventure gaming experience you have, there is a challenge around every dark corner.
Silence will, without a doubt, be broken at certain moments in the game with a spontaneous eruption of curses as you comb--silent pixel-by-silent pixel--an intricately detailed scene. Like most adventure games, finding the smallest speck of color can become a nearly insurmountable task, as you wait, about to explode, for the cursor to magically transition into the all-powerful hotspot. In acknowledging this possible frustration, House of Tales has included an in-game hotspot identification system that, when holding down the H button, will label each area of interest in the scene. This will certainly alleviate anyone’s fear of having to paint each scene with the mouse; such a task can slow gameplay, lock up the story and turn The Moment of Silence into something more like The Moment of Slice my Wrists.Continued on the next page...