I have a love-hate relationship with The Novelist. It’s a deep and intricate piece of storytelling, but also dreadful in the way that it so closely mimics real life.

This affected me in similar ways to Gone Home and any game that elicits that kind of emotion is a worthwhile experience. The Novelist is heavy so If you’re looking to step away from real-life problems then this isn’t the game for you.

The game chronicles the struggles of a writer named Dan Kaplan who brings his wife Linda and son Tommy to a secluded summer home for a few months.  It doesn’t take long to find out that the family is troubled. Dan is struggling with the pressure of being a published novelist and his issues have impacted his marriage with Linda. Their son Tommy also feels neglected by his father and struggles with school.

couldn’t stop playing this game because the way it highlights relationships between these three characters. There are games out there that revolve around making choices that impact the story, but none do it with the level of depth and nuance that The Novelist does. The fate of this family rested squarely on my shoulders and making those decisions was an agonizing process.    

The Novelist thirdEvery choice holds weight because the situation is realistic and because there are consequences to every decision. The fact that I’m deciding what happens to a family that resembles my own made this game intimate and personal to play through. It was also uncomfortable to play because it’s set up to ensure that any decision is guaranteed to negatively impact at least one member of the family.

The game constantly reminds me that life doesn’t give everybody a happy ending and that made it depressing to play through in the later chapters. That’s not a knock against the game. In fact, I appreciate that it isn’t afraid to make me feel bad.

The premise is that I am a ghost that haunts this summer home and is compelled to meddle in the lives of those that choose to live here. The ghost is a voyeur that is able to hide in light fixtures and watch the family without being seen. It can also read thoughts and view the memories of each family member.

The Novelist is divided into chapters that are defined by an overarching conflict that this ghost needs to resolve. This game was subtle in the way it reveals character and I appreciated how it let me reach my own conclusions about who they are.

Each character’s backstory is conveyed second hand through drawings or notes strewn about the house or through the ability to delve into the memory of a family member. The latter is a powerful storytelling device. Entering a character’s memory is simple as sneaking up behind them and  possessing them.

The scene shifts and I’m suddenly exploring a a version of the house that resides within their mind. Memories are depicted as moments frozen in time and are among the most emotional moments in the Novelist. I had to stop playing after seeing Tommy staring out the window in the midst of drawing a picture of him and his father holding hands. The scene that really made me squirm was seeing Linda and Dan frozen in the midst of a fight.These moments only added to the tension when it came time to decide whose needs would be met at the end of each chapter.

The Novelist MainI appreciated the scope of this game just as much as how nuanced it was. Those “moment-to-moment” decisions made after each chapter have a legacy that build toward an ultimate resolution. Choosing to strengthen Dan and Linda’s relationship several times resulted in them getting more intimate, but it also starts to wreck Dan’s professional life and ruins his relationship with Tommy.

There were moments that it really grated on me that I could never achieve a true win in the sense that everybody leaves happy, but that tact also resonated with me because of what it says about choice and consequences in everyday life.      

Where The Novelist falls short is in its lackluster gameplay. This is technically a first person stealth game, but it’s not very well done. Constantly sneaking around really got in the way of what made this game compelling — the story. Now there is an option to play it without the need to be stealthy and if I were to do this over again, I would turn it off.

The catch with a stealth playthrough is that being seen spooks the family. Get seen too many times removes the option of compromising with a second character at the end of a chapter. That means instead of moving on with one character displeased two of them walk away unhappy.  

The only safe hiding place is inside of open light fixtures and as the game progresses there are less places to hide, heightening the risk of getting seen. The problem with this is that the game takes place in one location and it becomes tedious zipping around the same set of light fixtures no matter how many of them are turned off. Early in the game it’s tense waiting for the right moment to pop out and read a note sitting on the coffee table, but near the end I was sick of it.

I have trouble classifying The Novelist as a game because it functions just fine without any of the gameplay elements at all. As a piece of interactive media though The Novelist is thought- provoking and explores a space rarely touched on in games.

Review: The Novelist
The Novelist is well worth it to play through just for the story, which is good because this isn't a very good stealth game.
Pros
  • Decisions matter
  • Nuanced story
  • compelling characters
Cons
  • Depressing to play
  • gameplay is repetitive
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Editor In Chief

Jose is a straight shooter who always goes the paragon route. He joined the team at Indie Haven to spread the word about indie games all across the galaxy. When not aboard the Normandy, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area playing video games and plotting ways to rid the world of games like Colonial Marines.

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  • We gotta learn how to make games with this kind of premise without the goofy gamey elements, like being a ghost (and since when do ghosts have to be stealthy anyway? They can’t be seen, they’re ghosts!)

    The ghost thing sounds like a bonus feature buried deep within the game. It seems like jump cuts would do the trick. What has the player’s attention, focus on that. The player doesn’t have to drive the narrative, the player and player character are both players and both separate players at that.