More so than movies or books, videogames transport us to other worlds and let us interact–with things, whether they are people, plants, or places. Oftentimes, these worlds are fictional or, in the case when they are not, the narrative surrounding it or the era are created whole cloth. I’m struggling to think of a game built around something so real and true, an experience where you just recreate the past as it happened. No, the Assassin’s Creed series definitely does not count. Now, A Golden Wake doesn’t do this per se, but many of the people in it are pieces of history, as is the land boom in Florida and the illegal happenings around Prohibition. I mean, you simply can’t make up a thing like the Roaring Twenties.
You take control of Alfie Banks, a realtor for Morris & Banks in New York. Unfortunately, his realtor days are up because his coworkers concoct a cunning plot to frame him, which subsequently results in his ejection from the company. With not much to go on, Banks purchases a newspaper–with his last dime, mind you–and reads an article about the land boom in Florida. For him, a fresh start is simply a long train ride away. And off he goes, to meet an array of new characters and find his place in the big ol’ world.
A Golden Wake dives deep into its setting. You can see this from the reworked Wadjet Eye logo when the game loads up to the playful menu text when you quit back to the desktop. Despite being a work of speculative fiction, Grundislav Games makes a massive effort to be historically accurate, including notable figures from the era, such as real estate developer George Merrick and mobster Fatty Walsh. period dialogue, and a retro, ragtime soundtrack that is still stuck in my head as of this writing. This high attention to detail really helps bring the old-school and, to be honest, somewhat crude graphics to life. To put it bluntly, there were a few screens, such as the boat dock and a few one-off locations, like the golf course, that felt unfinished. Or rather, uninteresting and distant, and existing only for Alfie to click on something and go to an additional screen, where things were much more refined.
Here’s a bummer: Alfie Banks is not very likeable. The game likes to build up his so-called charm and way with words, but I found him grating, whiney, and selfish from the very first scene. There’s nothing you can do about this. It is how he is written, and when the time comes for him to make a major decision, you just sit back and watch, helping to put the pieces together afterwards. The problem is that we never get a whole lot of backstory on the man, not even when his brother shows up for a chat. Which makes a lot of his journey and grumbling as an errand boy feel a bit empty. He certainly has an impact, but ultimately feels quite unnecessary in the long run. A shame, as I did enjoy many other characters, such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas, voiced by none other than Rebecca Whittaker. Another problem is that because Alfie is constantly jumping ship, you never get to hang around with the same side characters for too long.
In stark contrast to the previous point-and-click adventure game I played, A Golden Wake‘s puzzles across Alfie Banks’ sojourn for a better life are shockingly simple. Your inventory never becomes too full, and every solution stems from a logical conclusion. Need an antenna for a toy tramcar? Use that antenna you broke off that radio earlier. There are a few spots where the “action” switches from standard pointing and clicking, with you finding “hidden objects” in a picture to condemn a house or steering a car to help Mabel Cody hop on her flying stunt plane. These certainly do break up the action, but are far from enjoyable. In the end, I only had to look up the solution to an obtuse bookcase secret passage puzzle (hint: how would a V.I.P. enter?), figuring everything out on my own. There’s also a questioning minigame–think L.A. Noire, but toned way down–where you can use Alfie’s charm and wits to unearth answers or cheat by clicking the Seller’s Intuition button; I never felt like I was doing it right, though the story just continues on regardless of the outcomes.
A few years ago, I replayed Blackwell Deception with the developer’s commentary on, and it was just as enjoyable as the first time through. I’m not ready to go back into A Golden Wake–aw, horsefeathers!–but when I do, I suspect I’ll partake of this option, as well as go for some of the trickier Achievements. There’s no difficulty setting for the puzzles, but it’ll be interesting to hear some thoughts about what went into them or why this location was used this way or that. A Golden Wake dreams big, and while it is not successfully in every corner, it is still a pretty good adventure that fans of traditional pointing and clicking can eat up, all while drowning in that deliciously sweet jitterbugging soundtrack.