Occasionally here at Player2.net.au, we will play something that deserves your attention but probably doesn’t need a full review written for it. Be it DLC for the latest AAA title, a little indie game or even an Android/iOS title. We play these titles for a blockbusting amount of time (2 – 5 hours) and report back to you the reader on what we found. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the latest episode of Blockbuster Gaming.
Blockbuster Gaming – Where The Water Tastes Like Wine
Dim Bulb Games, Serenity Forge
PC, Mac, Linux
Spotting a campfire in the distance, I trudge across a few more miles of open plain to rest weary feet and tired bones. Across the flames sits another traveller, down on their luck and hoping to put some more distance between themselves and the troubles they’ve left behind. We while away the night swapping stories; I give tales of joy, sadness, hope or terror at their request and they pull back a veil on their life, fragments and clues revealing their trials and tribulations. Come morning, they set out for a new destination and I pick myself up, scan the horizon and decide to follow the nearest rode, thumb stretched out in the hopes a passer-by might take pity and give me a ride to the nearest capital city.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a love letter to many things – Americana, the magnificent geography of the United States, the power of myth and the journey stories make to attain such a status. While the most recent news about the title centered around the casting of Sting in the role of the games narrator, the truth is that his contribution pales in comparison to that of the eclectic mix of writers who have supplied an enormous amount of compelling narrative content. There are in fact over 200 snippets, short stories and lengthier backstories of the games 16 fellow wanderers whose histories must be slowly peeled away as they move from state to state.
The gameplay loop itself is fairly simple – after an incident involving a talking wolf and a bad hand of cards, the protagonist is stripped down to his bones and cursed to wander the 48 states of mainland USA in search of stories, fables, parables, folklore – you name it. There are a few basic systems in place revolving around travel, sleeping, eating and making money but these are small diversions from the two main activities; walking and collecting stories. Icons which show up on the map denote new stories, events and tales that ‘grew in the telling’ – things you’ve heard before but have been embellished as they’re spread around the country as a result of your influence. Every so often you’ll want to check in on a campfire, which stand out from a far distance, to acquaint yourself with a fellow traveller. These are where the ‘meatier’ narratives develop and each encounter is considered a chapter in that travellers’ story – to unlock the next chapter, you must provide them with the types of stories they request. They might be looking for something uplifting, or adventurous, or spine-tingling; meet their requests enough times in a single encounter and their next chapter will be available when you encounter them again on the road. Don’t have what they’re looking for? Then you’ll have to keep wandering to build up your arsenal. This loop is surprisingly compelling and drives players to continue moving around the map, visiting sections they may not have made it to previously.
Visually, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine has a very stylised look and an earth and pastel colour palette which combines both 2D and 3D artwork to result in what I would consider a very minimalist aesthetic. The result is something that looks wonderfully unique in gaming, a feat that becomes harder to achieve with each passing year. A gorgeous folk soundtrack accompanies with a mixture of English and Spanish singers that somehow captures turn-of-the-century nostalgia for someone who has only experienced that era secondhand. This is compounded by a truly stellar cast of voice actors who bring a gravity and believability to both stories and characters.
This is slow burn gaming experience that is not for everyone, but those that fall into the demographic it’s aiming for are going to be absolutely smitten with it. Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is like nothing else I’ve ever played and is a title I intend to keep savouring over coming weeks.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine launches on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux today.
Stephen del Prado
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen’s attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then he has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the now-long retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up on by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever.
Writes on Yugambeh land.