Is it engaging? Yes. Does it feel like an old adventure game at times? Certainly. But is it a game? Of course it is! You’re playing as someone trying to figure out what happened between Hannah and her husband Simon, and all you’ve got to go on is some old police interview footage. Rather than simply watching all the interview tapes through sequentially, you figure you might as well have some fun with this. After all, sitting through all those tapes could get boring. Thankfully, they’ve all been cut up like a jigsaw puzzle, indexed via their transcripts, and thrown into a database for you to play with. The game begins with your first search query already on screen: “murder”. With this tool at hand, it’s now up to you to figure out the rest of the story.
It will require you to pay attention, and it does require you to think carefully about what you’re seeing in order to build an appropriate mental model and direct your next database query. In some respects, this philosophy of a mentally reconstructed narrative reflects the design of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, only instead of a beautiful world to explore, you’re sitting in a dark room browsing through files on a computer.
The game ends once your curiosity’s been satisfied. There’s no judge, jury or anyone to convince or argue with. You simply need to convince yourself that you’re satisfied with your understanding of the case. After about an hour or so at the computer, the developer, Sam “SB” Barlow, himself messages you asking if you’re happy with what you’ve found. If you answer “yes”, the game ends with you logging off the computer and leaving. And that’s all there is to it.