It’s quantum physics versus point and click in this hand-crafted indie game
Hans Tannhauser, a quantum mechanics student, wins a competition he doesn’t remember entering - a trip to the remote German village of Trüberbrook. Intending to use the time to work on his thesis, he instead becomes caught up in the strange goings on in quantum defying Trüberbrook, the gateway to multiple realities, and perhaps the end of this one.
Trüberbrook was partly funded by Kickstarter and heavily inspired by the classic era of LucasArts and Broken Sword. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but while this is one of the most beautiful adventure games I’ve ever seen, I am living proof that looks aren’t everything.
The design was achieved by the developers making actual detailed miniature scale models which were then scanned in; there’s so much depth and volume, you want to reach out and touch it. Smooth yet surreal, it’s the perfect backdrop to the equally strange story which feels like it’s aiming for X-Files, Stranger Things, Twin Peaks – but actually hits like a Dr Who episode with Sylvester McCoy playing the spoons.
Hans is clearly intended to emulate Guybrush Threepwood or George Stobbart, but while Guybrush’s ebullient nature allowed him a wry comment, and George Stobbart had his befuddled, self-aware irony and red nylon panties, Hans just doesn’t have the charm or personality to pull off a lead we want to follow. He just kind of drifts along while the story – and reality – unravels around him, and the other characters seem dead inside, droning dialogue and plot points, acting in surreal and odd ways that feel conscious and deliberate. Hans does have a spunky female sidekick for a while, a-la Nico, but their banter falls flat too.
The plot, which sees Hans slouching about trying to stop someone using a machine that lets them travel to other realities, never really comes into focus because Hans has the same energy I put into emptying the dishwasher – he’s not the unlikely hero, anyone could have done this and even when it’s revealed his ‘winning’ the competition was deliberate because of his background in Quantum Physics, it’s a stretch to believe he’s the only man for the job.
It just doesn’t do the best with what it has. The Quantum fluxes just mean random background changes instead of mind-bending, witty, hilarious, exciting changes in reality or situations like the throwback-done-right Oxenfree; much like the characterisation, voice-acting and puzzles, everything takes a backseat to the world they’ve built. We don’t inhabit or interact with it, we just look at it, like we’re visiting a Model Village.
Schlepping back and forth and forth and back to the same 3 or 4 locations to pick up this or that really starts to drag. There’s also diversions, roadblocks and long-winded issues Hans has to resolve to move forward and those seem to have little to do with anything. And don’t get me started on the long-winded unskippable dialogue cut-scenes and a five-minute-long ‘concert’ we have to attend for no damn reason. And the unskippable end credits that include everyone who donated to the Kickstarter…
A lot of the puzzles are pointlessly complicated and drawn-out but when the problems -let alone the solutions- are so nonsensical it really grinds. Most are so convoluted you would never be able to guess ahead of the result – this is little more than a hidden object game where you click anything highlighted, pick it up if you’re able, then later click another object and a problem you didn’t know was a problem is solved. For example, one needs Hans to buy nuts to fatten crows so they’ll land on a satellite dish and their now heavy weight breaks it so a girl stops watching TV and leaves so we can get the TV's Cathode tube for an invention. TF are you supposed to figure all that out? I did all that without realising or knowing I was actually solving anything. It just sort of happened as I went along. It’s the most literal point & click adventure I’ve ever played.
But I still can’t hate it because I love looking at it so much. It’s not just their ability with miniatures that makes this world so spellbinding, the models have been lit in a way that gives them a texture and physicality and the way the CG characters navigate the world makes you think they’ll step outside the screen like a friendly Sadako.
This should have been a short film. There are moments that raise a smile, like when the weather suddenly changes, or the quantum thing we’re trying to build winds up looking like a Keytar. But somehow, despite it sticking closely to the LucasArts recipe, it misses the secret ingredient and ends up being bland. It feels very meanspirited to attack Trüberbrook given its beauty and indie status, but you can’t escape the fact that it’s just not very good.