The Grandfather begins with a jarring scene: a comic-style illustration of a naked old man, sitting on a toilet and sobbing. Superimposed upon the scene, his wife’s face is twisted into an expression of rage. Meanwhile, a disembodied, near-whispering female voice introduces the eponymous character’s plight – namely that this man’s wife is a coldhearted, angry woman who has made her husband miserable and desperate to escape their loveless marriage.
Created by two indie developers, The Lady’s Michael Patrick Rogers and David Szymanski, creator of The Moon Sliver and The Music Machine, this collaboration is billed by Rogers as being “based on a true story.” Considering the creative pedigree, it shouldn’t be surprising that The Grandfather is brief and experimental. However, that brevity is taken to extremes here, to the detriment of almost every single component of the game.
At least initially, the game does well at generating a feeling of unease and even dread. Following the introductory scene, the player is left at the main menu, a house with red glowing windows looming in the background. Upon starting a new game, the camera slowly zooms toward the building. Through the windows, you see the Grandfather floating like a fetus in the empty darkness, an umbilical cord attached to his stomach.
In these opening moments you are introduced to a 3D first-person sequence that repeats several times over the course of the game. Upon zooming in on the cord, the scene cuts to what appears to be a galaxy of stars that slowly swirls to reveal a tunnel (presumably the cord’s interior). The keyboard’s WASD controls allow you to walk through this tunnel toward a point of light where one of the Grandfather’s body parts waits to be retrieved.
Clicking on the highlighted body part results in some exposition from the narrator, who describes its significance to the Grandfather. For instance, the first part is his right arm, which will allow him to paint again. After this brief initial sequence, the game moves on to the first of six main levels, each of which is played in 2D third-person and presents a single room of the home where there is a puzzle to solve.
The puzzles are no less strange than the story, each involving the mouse being used to slowly maneuver the Grandfather’s floating head around a scene filled with various objects, some interactive and some not (with no indication of which is which). There is no inventory, so certain objects must be picked up and moved by hovering the Grandfather over them and holding down the left mouse button (yes, somehow his head is actually capable of lifting objects – perhaps that explains the intense grimace on his face). Generally you have no real guidance for what needs to be done, resulting in trial-and-error experimentation until something seems to work.
For example, the first level is the basement, which contains a furnace and washing machine, among other items. Particular combinations will enable you to put out a self-contained fire that poses no danger whatsoever. Meanwhile, repeatedly switching the light suspended overhead on and off leads to it changing color, then flickering, and eventually shorting out, which ends the level. It was only after finishing this first scene that I realized that extinguishing the light in the room was the point of the puzzle. While a few levels (or rooms, or whatever you want to call them) have fairly well-designed tasks, the majority of them are unsatisfying and feel like cryptic busywork with no real relevance.
Sandwiched between solving a puzzle and the next FPS sequence to retrieve another body part, illustrated comic-style panels (similar to the one opening the game) help tell the tragic story. While possessing surreal overtones, The Grandfather is really a straightforward tale of two people who have spent far too many years in a bitter, dysfunctional relationship. Although that may well fit its billing as a “horror” game, there’s not much that’s truly frightening about the experience aside from a mild jump scare or two. Blood makes a few appearances, and the Grandfather’s heart is represented as a sickly, deformed creature with shards of glass and nails sticking out of it. Ultimately, however, the game never rises above being mildly unsettling once the eyebrow-raising weirdness loses its novelty.Continued on the next page...