A long time ago, in a village far, far away… I used to get Choose Your Own Adventure books from the local library. These were stories that let you craft your own path through the tale by giving you an option at the end of a page depending on what choice you wanted to make. “Will you board the ship and set sail? – turn to page 9” was the type of thing on offer, and whilst limited in print format, it was a nice way of adding some interactivity to static text. Then came video games and player agency was in your hands with every action. You are creating a unique story each time you pick up a control pad. Some games over the years have tried to capture a more sophisticated version of those classic books (like Heavy Rain), but simplicity is usually best and Robot Pumpkin Games brings us The Innsmouth Case which is a text adventure played out on a screen. Of course, they can do some fancy tricks with sound and graphical effects to enhance the experience, yet does it manage to replicate that feeling of turning physical pages and carving out your own investigation?
Releasing originally in mid-2020 and now finding its way to consoles, The Innsmouth Case is a story about a vaguely competent private investigator employed to find a missing child in the seaside town of Innsmouth. With nothing more than a photo and some sharply written descriptions, you set out from Boston to search the town, uncovering some really strange happenings as you spend more time there. All is not normal in this isolated fishing port, it’s got a whiff of something otherworldly about it, and it turns out that danger lurks on just about every page. What follows is 35 chapters of humour, horror and hijinks as you try and figure out a way to get to one of the 27 different endings. In a Lovecraft inspired story the way it ends is never going to be as you’d expect, so be prepared for betrayal, surprise, monsters and probing tentacles. If you’re really astute you may even make it out alive.
The whole of The Innsmouth Case is a text story to read interspersed with decision points that will either change the course of game, or offer up some new piece of information. Typically you’ll be reading 2 – 3 pages describing the environment and situation, then a choice will have to be made on what to do or say next. These can be as innocuous as saying hello, or as brutal as starting a fight, and any of them could potentially take you off in a random direction that either hinders or helps the investigation. With no indicator to what the choice is doing you have to pay attention and try and figure out what a better response would be if it all goes wrong… though that’s only if you want to try again. A wonderful part of this type of adventure is that sticking with one set of selections and not replaying means it’s a bespoke story for you. Of course, not revisiting areas and scenarios can mean missing out on some truly unexpected moments.
Our nameless PI throughout his detectoring is a bit hapless, and his innocent interpretation of the unusual goings on can lead to some outlandish results. I’m also sure he’s related to Leisure Suit Larry with a continual focus on seeing if sex is on the table… or the floor… or on the beach with a mutated fisherman. There’s some outright slapstick in the prose that will illicit a few smiles, and some clever references to pop culture, as well as a decent lampooning of classic games. In the latter it’s nice to hear the music shift up a gear to pastiche their soundtracks whilst our hero is playing them with an awestruck crowd. Ambience is one thing that a game can do over a book, and the audio shifts to suit the scene that’s happening, bringing peril if it needs to, or being tranquil when it calls for just looking around. Distractions from the words are few and far between though, and graphical enhancements are only used to emphasis critical points in the story, like getting killed. Getting a game over though is more like a badge of honour than a failure, and it’s a challenge to find all the different ways it can play out.
Functionally, The Innsmouth Case works well with the text being zippy, clear and never really too much to read on the screen. Chapters are kept short and choices varied so that it’s never a case of being able to confuse the options on hand. There’s also a surprising amount to cover as well, with a lot of different locations and ways of reaching them, as well as the oddball characters that fill the town. I wouldn’t say there’s anything scary despite the horror elements either, so don’t let that put you off. Just be ready for some strange mental images and situations to get your head around. Graphically it’s simple enough, yet retains enough detail to keep an atmosphere running, and it’s pretty quick in the loading of chapters and jumping between locations. In fact, the only thing that let it down for me was it could have done with a proof read on some of the sections. I noticed repeating sentences and paragraphs where they shouldn’t be, and some continuity errors within pages as well, believe it or not.
It’s clear that The Innsmouth Case is made for mobile devices rather than consoles, though if you don’t mind sitting down in front of your TV and reading pages of a book, there’s no issue at all in the way this is presented. Managing to keep the chapters short, and fastforward-able when replaying, is a great design strategy that begs you to try again and make a different choice. Even after I thought I’d exhausted all the options I ended up discovering a new location too, which convinced me how much has gone into figuring out all the permutations available and how no stone should be left unturned to get the most out of it. With a well balanced way of combining dry humour, absurd horror and “Confessions of a Window Cleaner”, there’s a lot of charm to be found in the margins.
A PS4 review copy of The Innsmouth Case was provided by Assemble Entertainment’s PR team, and the game is available now on most platforms for around £12.