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Wayward Manor Review: Haunting, and Not In A Good Way
As a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, I was delighted when I heard he would be teaming up The Odd Gentlemen (Developers of The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom) to develop a ghastly sounding game called Wayward Manor. Both Gaiman and The Odd Gentlemen have showcased genuine talent in bringing these charming and artsy sorts of projects to life in past but unfortunately, the final product of their combined talents is a bit of a mess.
Wayward Manor sees you take on the role of an angry, nameless spirit who teams up with the spirit of the manor itself to haunt and drive away the twisted selfish family that has taken up residence. It’s a reasonably interesting premise and Gaiman’s writing – and occasional narration – is full of the kind of character and wit you expect from him. Unfortunately, his involvement with the project can only do so much to support a game that’s lackluster at best.
Rather than put the talented Neil Gaiman in his element with some sort of adventure or RPG, Wayward Manor is a puzzle game. Each level takes place in a different room of the manor and tasks the player with clicking on objects to scare its inhabitants away. Some scares are achieved with a single click, others require multiple clicks and precise timing and once the player has earned enough ‘scare-points’, the level comes to a brisk end – complete with a charming acapella chorus, no less.
There’s no lack of ideas in Wayward Manor and certainly it’s easy to imagine a version of that game that works well but in reality – the mechanics are shallow, frustrating and constantly let down by poor and, worse, unimaginative level design. It’s not always clear what clicking objects will do and this ambiguity is made all the more confusing when you realize that certain objects can only be used once while others allow for multiple uses. The mechanics are easy to pick up but in my entire time with the game I found myself very confused as to whether there was a specific sequence of actions I needed to complete a level or whether each room was a sandbox of potential scares.
I constantly found myself trapping myself by activating objects too early or too late and often wondered if I was completing a level correctly – or had just cheesed my way through it. Each level felt too easy and I breezed through to the game’s final chapters in barely two hours worth of playtime.
If the writing is what pulls Wayward Manor up, it’s the game’s visuals that really drag it back down. Everything feels very choppy and the production values overall make the game feel like a student project that found its way onto Steam. Wayward Manor tries to match Gaiman’s writing with an aesthetic that’s as dark, quirky and twisted but ultimately falls flat and comes off as amateur. The whole thing just lacks polish and by the time I reached the end, it reminded me a lot of an up-jumped mobile game (in all the worst ways).
Although I’m not going to call it a good game, I hope Wayward Manor isn’t a game that gets forgotten by those involved in it. I’d love to see Gaiman get involved in more games and I’d love to see The Odd Gentlemen learn from their mistakes here when it comes to the Homestuck Adventure Game.