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Today’s game on the RPS Advent Calendar is a story that spans generations, but you’ll need plenty of ink and paper to get it down. How’s your handwriting? Good, is it? Can you read Latin?
What else could it be but Pentiment!
Rachel: I don’t know how Obsidian made a detective game set in ye olde medieval times, but the result of their efforts is one of the best mystery games of the year. What makes Pentiment truly great – and what some of my other favourite detective games also do well – is that it gets back to basics with mystery solving. No flashy shootouts, no car chases, no brooding detective whose dead wife made him a trigger-happy, loose cannon, stick-up-the-arse. Absolutely no thank you. Let’s get back to basics: collect evidence, talk to witnesses, and then point the finger at whodunnit. If there’s a stonking good story that unfolds alongside it, that’s a bonus.
Pentiment is very much that, and also nabs that bonus for an enthralling story, too. You step into the gentleman’s tights of Andreas Maler, a travelling artist who’s set up shop in the monastery of the quaint countryside town of Tassing, helping the monks illustrate the church’s manuscripts. It’s all rather pleasant until a visiting nobleman is brutally murdered on monastery grounds – and Andreas’ mentor is accused of the crime. Wanting to clear his friend’s name, our artist sets out to find the real killer.
What I love most about Pentiment is its use of setting. It’s a story that could only be told during a very specific time in the 16th century. What at first looks like nothing more than a single act of merciless violence begins to grow into something more historically complex. The relationship between the church and the local peasants has become… uneasy. With landowner and church taxes on the rise, the people of Tassing are far from happy, and this tension is woven throughout the game’s rich story that spans 25 years of European medieval history. The game also does that excellent mystery game thing where there are multiple suspects and you’re free to draw your own conclusions (which I love in a detective game). Instead of being directed by the story, it’s basically all down to you. Be careful though, as whoever you end up pointing the finger at will have drastic repercussions through generations. No pressure, then.
With only so much time during the investigation, you’re not going to collect every piece of evidence, and your decision will change the course of history for the town. Multiple playthroughs aren’t vital but I highly recommend it. Doing so will also give you more time to drink in the gorgeous hand-drawn artwork inspired by the illuminated pages of church manuscripts. You really can’t get more historically accurate than that. My screenshot folder is proper stuffed.
So yeah, in summary, Pentiment is very good, it’s also 15-ish hours so it won’t take up too much of your Xmas holiday. You can play it between watching Christmas re-runs of Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
Alice Bee: It’s giving big The Name Of The Rose energy. My favourite thing in Pentiment is the text animation, which I have waxed lyrical on before. Pentiment isn’t voiced, but a character’s text bubble will have different writing depending on if they’re a peasant or townsperson, if they’re educated, if they’re ecclesiastical… It is drawn on screen in front of you as if an invisible quill were writing on parchment. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a game. It’s basically pornographic.
Another thing that Pentiment does well is, while you can make meaningful choices and steer things in different ways, it has a definite tale it wants to tell you as well. A few key events can’t be changed, but rather than frustrating I think it was what allowed the rest of the story to have such strong foundations. The characters feel very realised, because Obsidian knows a lot about who they are and their motivations.