A Golden Wake – What We Think
A Golden Wake is a fictional take on the origins of Coral Gables, a town near Miami that was founded during a development boom in the late 1920s. Many of the characters found in the game figured prominently in the town’s genesis, though the game devs are quick to point out that much license has been taken with their depictions.
That said, the life of an optimistic real estate salesman doesn’t really make for compelling gameplay. While the writing is solid, an overall lack of cohesion and credibility further hamper the subject from becoming something that transcends its pedestrian nature.
Banks For the Memories
You play the role of Alfie Banks, a salesman who has decided to horn in on the action after a previous employer gave him the heave ho. He zeroes in on the man behind the Coral Gables development, determined to prove his worth. Solve enough dilemmas for people in need, and Alfie just might earn a place amongst the region’s movers and shakers.
The game operates as a standard point-and-click adventure; move through various screens, explore the surroundings, talk to folks for information, and acquire items that may be useful in solving puzzles.
Sand, Surf, and Soothing Tunes
The original soundtrack does a stellar job in creating the feel of the bygone 1920s. It’s all steamy, sweltering jazz tracks, and it packs a lot of swagger. The landscapes are peppered with historical landmarks and locations. Even within its pixel art framework, the visuals manage to flaunt a decent amount of detail.
The character avatars are a bit of a mixed bag; Alfie and other purely fictional characters have a more finished look to them, while some of the historical figures have a pseudo-rotoscoped feel about them that is definitely off-putting.
The amount of objects you can explore or pick up is limited, and too often, it becomes obvious which are to be used for what, as they are discovered. For example, the secretary that guards the door to the man you want to see needs a new ribbon for her typewriter. Good thing you just happened to pack one in your suitcase…you know, right there, next to your slacks…
In one instance, I was hinted towards a golf course, after having been told that several of the country’s upper crust were known to play there. When I arrived, there was one screen with a golfer, and his bag. Talking to him netted no additional information, and clicking on his bag resulted in asking the man if Alfie could borrow a golf tee. The man agrees to the request, and it was added to my inventory.
Why am I asking a random golfer if I can borrow a golf tee? There was nothing that occurred up to this point that suggested that a golf tee might come in handy. Worse yet…it never did! I cleared that chapter shortly after the encounter without having a chance to use it. When the next chapter began, it had been removed from my inventory.
The game offers dialogue choices, but other than revealing a different few lines of chatter, they don’t appear to change anything. Alfie will continue on one narrative path regardless of how he replies. While a sense of agency is teased via the interface, it’s all just window dressing.
Roam Sweet Home
Coral Gables seems like a largely empty place. As it is still a location in development, this makes sense early on, but even later in the game, it feels more like a collection of destinations with nothing to link them together. When Alfie first arrives, he has a room in a hotel, but after that chapter concludes, he can’t return there. One would assume that he has a place in town that he calls home, but you are never able to visit it. The result is an eerily spacious burg that never truly feels like a home.
Charleston Chewing the Scenery
There are a few instances peppered through the game in which Alfie can use his “seller’s intuition” in order to persuade someone into a desired course of action. These are tiny observations that will allow Alfie to categorize who it is he is dealing with. Unfortunately, the descriptors are maddeningly vague – so much so that I felt they were tripping me up as often as they were helping.
To get the game to progress, you have to use the right talking points. Fail this, and the mark will change the subject, ending the conversation. When this happens you are forced to start the conversation anew, though all of the dialogue is precisely the same, up until you get the chance to select an option other than the one that ended your previous attempt.
You can skip through the dialogue easily enough, but it it strips back the narrative enough that you can see the gears of the game noisily grinding away. This was particularly vexing in the game’s final attempt at persuasion, as a major event was taking place in the background. Instead, Alfie and his target sat there, calmly repeating the same talking points over and over, and generally sucking the urgency out of the situation.
There are other game types that crop up as well. In one instance, Alfie performs a home inspection. This involves matching up physical defects from a list with the associated evidence found somewhere within the house. The image Alfie uses to pick out the abnormalities makes this puzzle too easy to solve; Frankly, if you can’t figure this one out immediately with one eyeball tied behind your back, you should probably never own a home.
One of the more convoluted puzzles involves a land auction, and Alfie can select to sell a home to one person, or multiple homes to a group of five people. To do the latter, you need to discern which house best suits which person based on the needs that are reported to you. You can take hints all the way up to having the solution mapped out for you. I ended up doing this, and even once each buyer was lined up with his or her ideal home, I still couldn’t clearly see how the clues were associated with the target houses.
Much like the seller’s intuition sessions, these are clunky, awkward affairs that don’t feel at all like an intuitive part of the game. In fact, all of them smack of being tacked on as a way of adding some action to the gameplay experience. Unfortunately, the end result is a collection of frustrating time-wasters.
Salesman Meets World
The progression of Alfie’s character makes very little sense. As he wanders through the tale, doing everything that is asked of him, it becomes increasingly more difficult to like him. Without spoiling anything, I’ll say that fairly early on, when a certain large-scale event doesn’t work out the way he has envisioned, he goes into brooding self pity that apparently endures for a couple of years.
His motivations for doing this are suspect; was a seasoned sales person really naive enough to expect that his faithful completion of under-the-table errands was going to result in his ensured reward (did I mention this would have been a HUGE event)? His rancor towards the individual who benefits instead of him is also unwarranted – he spouts off about how this person is untrustworthy, and yet any interaction with this character up to this point has been completely amicable. Alfie himself has performed all manner of fraudulent actions to complete a number of tasks, so this hypocrisy doesn’t make it any easier to sympathize with him.
Alfie’s next big move is even more confounding. While it serves to introduce certain historical players into the tale, Alfie’s choices – and his ability to quickly adapt to these new, drastically different scenarios – can only be described as ludicrous.
Bored Walk Empire
The attempt to create a fictitious tale amidst a faithful recreation of an historical American town is admirable. Though there is beauty to be found in the art design and music, the end result falls somewhat flat. Including prohibition elements to the game was likely an attempt to add a more thrilling aspect to the narrative, but the implementation – particularly in how it affects Alfie – demands far too much suspension of disbelief from the player.
If you find the world of real estate from yesteryear to be enthralling, you may well enjoy the game. Unfortunately with its limp leading man, sloppy puzzle-solving, and a realm that feels only part-way fleshed out, many gamers will not see A Golden Wake through to its conclusion.
Watch the launch trailer for A Golden Wake: