What happens when you die? It's a question both religion and science have tried to answer to no avail. Is there an afterlife? What's it like? What happens in those moments where you hang between life and death? Why such a morbid question for a Wednesday afternoon, so close to the Christmas holidays? Well, we've been playing the hand-painted point and click adventure game, Silence, a game that's equal parts fantastical and sad, set in an imaginary world that exists in your mind where you can retreat when things get tough. And few things are tougher than death.
You see, the world of Silence is a land that exists between life and death; a dream world where those on the brink reside. Many years ago, a depressed clown called Sadwick found himself in Silence, travelling the world with his multi-talented caterpillar friend, Spot. As they travelled, rumours began that the king was sick - and that Sadwick was prophesied to revive him, but would end up destroying Silence in the process. Yet when he finally arrived at the throne room, there was naught but a mirror, through which Sadwick saw his own sick self staring back at him, comatose in a hospital bed. Only by breaking the mirror, Sadwick - or Noah as he was known in real life - woke from his illness, and the world of Silence was lost forever. Or so he thought…
Following a bombing raid on their little snowy village, orphans Noah and Renie are the latest visitors to the world of Silence, and find themselves joining forces with a band of rebels who plan to rid the world of the 'false queen' who now rules the land. With her army of shadowy murderous Seekers, she hunts for a shard of a shattered mirror amongst the wreckage of a ravaged world, with the land's once fantastical scenery falling to ruin, as crumbling buildings lie abandoned and the once serene world between life and death is but a shadow of it's former self. With the help of cutesy magical caterpillar Spot, the siblings will take in everything from talking rocks and cryptic myths to carnivorous plants and hallucinogenic flowers on their journey through Silence together.
Silence is essentially a puzzle-filled point and click adventure, which relies on your ability to use logic to figure your way through problems, rather than any quick-fire reactions or dual analogue stick wrangling. As the story moves along, you'll hit road block after road block along the way - whether it's finding a portly escort caught in a man-eating plant, an important message stuck in the high up branches of a tree, or a ladder that's missing a few rungs - and it's up to you to figure out how to proceed, by making clever use of your surroundings. However, unlike classic point and clicks, Silence has no inventory to speak of, so you'll mostly be using the items in the area in question, rather than a seemingly useless rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle you stashed in your inventory in the opening minutes of the game. Even so, that doesn't make the puzzles any less head-scratching!
For example, releasing Renie's guide, Sam, from the aforementioned carnivorous plant was a pretty extensive, multi-stage puzzle that involved tracking down something bitter enough to feed the plant to force it to spit him out. The first step involved taste testing some of the fruits of the swamp to test for bitterness, some of which had some… interesting effects on little Renie. Once we'd identified the best bitter berry for the job, we needed to find a way to concentrate them for maximum bitterness. Talking to Sam reveals the best way to do this would be to boil said berries with a bit of water, but for that we needed a fire first...
Earlier on, Sam also dropped into conversation that the swamp releases a kind of noxious, and pretty flammable gas - removing the nearby plug from the ground gives Renie a nice little place to build herself a camp fire, if only she had a light. On the shores of a nearby tar pit however, there's an insect that drops some 'hot honey', a flaming blob of lava-like liquid; just the thing for starting a swamp fire, if you can find an easy way of carrying it over to the swamp gas without burning through your mittens. A bit of exploring later, and we stumble on a metal helmet, which can do double duty as both a way of carrying the flaming honey back to start a fire, and later to boil our berries in. All it needs is a dash of water squeezed from a nearby piece of wet moss (a job which Renie seems to rather enjoy doing), before simmering to a slush over the fire, and Bob's your uncle - where 'Bob' is your escort, Sam, and 'your uncle' is 'freed from the clutches of a man-eating plant'.
But Silence has another, and much cuter, method of puzzle-solving up its sleeve too, in the form of your magical caterpillar companion, Spot. Able to flatten himself out like a pancake, blow up like a balloon and take on various other area-specific forms, making use of your shape-shifting insect pal is the key to navigating Silence. When an unfortunate tree-kicking incident lands your companion, Kyra, unconcious and cocooned in the lair of some vicious insects, Spot really comes into his own - by sipping from a nearby pool of Royal Jelly, he can turn into a hypnotic buzzing ball that can distract the rather angry queen, letting Noah slip past towards Kyra. Finding her dangling over a rather dramatic canyon, Spot saves the day once more, making the perfect bridge for Kyra to fall on to when Noah manages to dislodge her from her cocoon-y prison from above. By combining Spot's various forms, whether it's a lava-spewing ball for burning through brambles, sliding flat Spot under a large stone head and inflating him to get the ball rolling again or using a sticky 'snot' Spot to latch onto a lodged crystal and pull it out, he's more than just an adorable face - he's the key to making your way through Silence.
With it's whimsical, yet occasionally dark tone, Silence is a nice enough tale, steeped in references fans of the original game are sure to appreciate. However, we found Noah's transformation into Sadwick, the depressive clown, was a bit jarring - he went from a capable and dependable big brother to a mopey emo, with little to no explanation. And while exploring the dream-like world of Silence is a blast, it is all over pretty quickly, weighing in at around six or seven hours in total - perhaps longer if you get stuck on a puzzle or two, yet we never found any were especially challenging either.
If you've got a point and click itch that needs scratching, then Silence's dark, and somewhat sad, fairytale world may just be what you need - it's not the longest, nor is it the most challenging, but sometimes it's nice to kick back with something more straight-forward. Even though we found Sadwick a somewhat insufferable goof, Renie and Spot were much more likeable characters - a fearless child and adorable shape-shifting caterpillar, whose many transformations are the key to traversing Silence's many puzzles, as you explore it's twisted Alice in Wonderland-esque landscape.