Two Households is an improvement over the first episode but it still suffers from most of the same failings. On the other hand, it's free. Learn more at www.tsl-game.com.
Posted by Andy Chalk (September 21, 2010)
Reviewing a game like The Silver Lining Episode Two: Two Households is a tricky proposition. It's essentially a new trip in an old car, which means that much of what there is to say about it has already been said. And while Two Households is most definitely an improvement over the first episode, the inevitable bad news is that it still suffers from many of the same failings that plagued its predecessor.
First, the good news: Two Households is technically solid and brings a few welcome upgrades to The Silver Lining. It installs painlessly and seamlessly, allowing players to continue from an old saved game or to start a new one from the beginning of the second chapter, and it opens with a nice recap of the events told in the previous chapter, What Is Decreed Must Be. Technological improvements include the addition of widescreen monitor support, three selectable sizes for subtitles and optimized volume settings that automatically lower music and ambient sound levels when characters are speaking.
On the gameplay side of the coin, King Graham is no longer trapped in a permanent state of saunter but can now be made to run from place to place with a simple double-click. Another welcome time-saver is "perpetual walking," which lets players set Graham off in a particular direction by clicking the "walk" icon on the edge of the screen, an option that's particularly useful in scenes with a shallow field of view, such as those that have him walking directly toward the player. Finally, the narration can be set to Short or Extended mode, which is supposed to reduce the amount of talking that accompanies the "look" or "use" functions; I only played with short narrations briefly, but to be honest I didn't notice any difference at all.
I did notice many differences in the rest of the game, however. One of my biggest complaints about the debut episode was that it felt less like a video game than an occasionally-interactive cut scene. There was very little to do but go where it pointed and click where it told you to. Two Households is significantly better in that regard, providing players with the opportunity to interact with characters, pick up items here and there and even engage in some old-time "adventure logic," using this to get that in order to do something else.
Another element that gives the game even more "real adventure" cred and will also probably catch a lot of people by surprise is the addition of death. Players will almost certainly die at least once over the course of the game and while some may find these unexpected trips to the afterlife arbitrary and unfair, in a twisted way it hearkens back to the glory days of the adventure genre, when game makers seemed to take perverse enjoyment in coming up with new and original ways to kill their audiences. Two Households is nowhere near that vicious but given the whimsical setting and perceived lightheartedness of the King's Quest series, it's easy to forget that adventuring can be a dangerous business.
As much of an improvement as it is, however, there's no getting around the fact that it's still a part of The Silver Lining, an amateur, fan-made game with all the drawbacks that entails. Characters are rough and blocky, and backdrops are sparse, with none of the visual artistry of the real King's Quest games. The voice acting remains an uneven mish-mash of talents and recording qualities. Small technical glitches can leave King Graham frozen in place for several seconds before warping him to a different part of the screen, or even cause him to "float" from one spot to another rather than walk normally.
Worse still is the writing, which is every bit as overwrought and clunky as it was in the first episode. Conversations are filled with awkward, melodramatic phrasing that might look good on paper but, in the finest tradition of "You can write this shit, George, but you can't say it," sounds terrible when spoken out loud. What I assume is supposed to pass as cuteness and wit from the narrator, meanwhile, is simply repetitive and irritating, and still breaks the fourth wall far more easily and more often than it should.
The problem with Two Households, and very possibly all of The Silver Lining, is that Phoenix Online Studios appears less interested in making a game than in penning a love letter to Roberta Williams. The studio seems determined to cram in every character who's ever turned up in a previous King's Quest game - even the Hole in the Wall from King's Quest 6 makes an appearance - and while that may be fun for the core of ultra-die-hard fans, it can be confusing and even overwhelming for those of us who gave up on the series in the late 80s. It's not necessary to get all the references to finish the game, obviously, but being in on the joke, so to speak, is where most of the fun lies.
The actual quest in Two Households is a fairly straightforward process for anyone with a modicum of adventuring experience and, for those who don't stop to smell the mountains of exposition, can probably be put away in well under a half-hour. That's not the way to play it, of course; ham-handed prose or not, players who don't take the time to explore and converse are missing out, and missing the point.
Two Households is very much a rough-hewn game, created by a team whose enthusiastic reach often exceeds the grasp of its abilities, but it also provides a glimmer of hope for the future of the series. The Silver Lining at this point remains a game by and for only the most serious King's Quest fans, and gamers who have never sampled its delights would be far better served picking up a copy of the King's Quest Collection from Amazon. But it's nice to see that there's an actual, honest-to-goodness video game to be found here rather than just an anthropological curiosity with a little potential. It's still a long way from being good, but it's a step in the right direction.
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