The solar beats down as I stroll up California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Freeway. I crossed the complete nation to be right here, on foot—first down from New England, right down to Florida, then throughout via the Southern states into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, after which lastly via the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles, the place I turned north once more.
It’s been an extended stroll, at all times headed in the direction of some new horizon. What’s that idiom? “People assume 100 years is a very long time, whereas the English assume 100 miles is a good distance.” Nicely I’ve walked a couple of thousand miles, all in quest of tales.
Tales of hope, loss, love, betrayal, ghosts and different ghoulish issues. I’ve met Paul Bunyan and Casey Jones, conversed with ghosts on the Alamo and within the woods round Georgia, been attacked by a bear and a bull, seen the Jersey Satan ingesting water from a vivid blue pond, met a lady who faked her personal demise, labored within the fields till my palms bled, stumbled again in time in Washington DC, and 100 different anecdotes.
America is a sophisticated place. However that’s the attraction, so far as The place the Water Tastes Like Wine is anxious.
America, I’ve given you all
“Is not a dingy and battered fact higher than a shining lie?” It’s one of many first strains you’ll hear in The place the Water Tastes Like Wine ($20 on Steam) and possibly crucial—it encapsulates the entire journey you’re about to undertake, and the grandiose ethos behind this good deconstruction of the American mythos.
That is an anthology. That’s about the most effective style I can slap on The place the Water Tastes Like Wine (hereafter abbreviated WTWTLW) regardless of there not likely being an “anthology” classification for video video games.
If we need to get technical about it, WTWTLW might be a piece of interactive fiction—it’s principally a variety of studying, with some mild interactivity baked in. Nevertheless it’s interactive fiction introduced not like any I’ve seen earlier than. You play as some type of wandering avatar for America, a 100-foot tall skeleton carrying a cowboy hat. It’s evocative, for positive, this specter of demise trudging via the golden fields of the Nice Plains or previous the towering Sierras, at all times stressed, at all times looking.
It’s your destiny to wander. Your obligation, actually. The opening moments see you gamble your life in a sport of poker, which—oops—seems to contain an otherworldly determine referred to as “The Wolf.” Sure, it’s a wolf-man. A wolf-man with the voice of Sting, I would add. Anyway, The Wolf condemns you to wander America amassing tales, then retelling them, watching them unfold via the land, develop and multiply.
And so off you go, the final of the folks heroes. You’re off to, as Paul Simon would possibly put it, “search for America.” You’ll search for it in farmhouses, in distant cabins, in cities massive and small that dot the sport’s recreation of America. Strolling sloooowly from place to position is totally half the sport, and the tempo is certain to alienate some. I loved it, although. It is meditative.
In all places you go, you’ll gather tales. Buildings with an icon overhead point out a narrative awaits. These are brief, often not more than a paragraph or two though a couple of stretch on longer. Every has customized artwork to go together with the textual content, a la Scary Tales to Inform within the Darkish and different brief story collections. Tales are additionally totally voiced, narrated by Keythe Farley (who you would possibly acknowledge from Thane in Mass Impact, amongst different roles).
Some are easy, whereas others ask you to make Select-Your-Personal-Journey type selections throughout the course of the story. As an example, while you meet Paul Bunyan within the backwoods of Oregon you’re given the choice to try to chop down a tree quicker than he can. You possibly can’t, clearly, however the sport allows you to select to maintain going, and ultimately the opposite lumberjacks will applaud your dedication even when Bunyan chopped down twenty timber within the time it took you to do one.
However what’s most exceptional is the vary of tales on show. As I mentioned, WTWTLW is an anthology—fairly actually. WTWTLW was written by a lot of individuals, and the sport is completely satisfied to focus on this. In the middle of taking part in, you’ll see the names of a minimum of a dozen completely different authors, and I believe much more contributed to the sport in smaller methods. It’s a collage of viewpoints, of distinctive voices and ideologies.
The result’s a delightfully messy sport that is each bit the “dingy and battered fact.” Or in the event you’d want a much less loaded phrase, difficult. The tales you gather pull from so many aspects of American life, so many areas (strolling throughout America is not only for present) and so many time intervals. WTWTLW is generally modeled after the Nice Despair period, each thematically and stylistically, however one minute you’ll be speaking to a soldier on the Alamo, the following listening to a lady speak about following the Grateful Useless on the street.
It’s Americana, in all its aspects. A pastiche. There are figures from folklore, like Bunyan and Casey Jones. There are legendary creatures, just like the Jersey Satan and the jackalope. There are tales of wars and the troopers that fought in them, tales of American landmarks, tales of hippies and railroad employees and slaves and plantation homeowners and 1920s businessmen and civil rights activists and college students and migrant employees and all of the myriad groupings of those that have existed on this tumultuous, difficult nation and its brief previous.
So that you gather these tales. You weave them collectively. You seek for the reality, for a “actual” America.
That’s solely half the equation, although. Like all oral historical past, the reality is within the telling. As you journey, you’ll ultimately come throughout different wanderers—a priest, a sailor, a hippie, a veteran, a younger child off on his personal.
The catch: They’re going to solely inform their tales in return for considered one of your personal. You will piece collectively their lives from scraps of dialog. Telling a hopeful story would possibly immediate a Deadhead to inform you how everybody appeared like one massive household at the beginning, whereas giving her a tragedy would possibly result in the the reason why she ultimately dropped out of the scene.
You possibly can decide and select at random, however to get characters to belief you requires a extra expert hand. They may ask for an exciting story, or a tragic story, and it is in your finest curiosity to match their temper. Achieve this, and the following time you discover an individual’s camp they’re going to be prepared to open up a bit extra.
Every character has three or 4 “Chapters” to regale you with, and their tales are a bit extra nuanced than the brief anecdotes you discover alongside the street, just like the sailor who had a cheerful household life however yearned for the adventures he used to examine in dimeback novels. When conflict broke out, he joined up with the Service provider Marines and left to seek out an journey of his personal. Or the Southern priest who’s oddly obsessive about listening to my ghost tales. Largely they’re tales of teams left behind by America, marginalized, struggling to discover a place in a society that’s alleged to welcome all comers. Laborious truths, and ones America has lengthy struggled with, and even coated up.
These truths are a part of the American mythos too although, and WTWTLW demonstrates this by feeding your campfire tales again into society. After you’ve visited a couple of of those fellow vacationers, you’ll encounter your personal collected tales out within the wild once more—however twisted, expanded upon, extra highly effective.
Touring via Louisiana I encountered a bull sitting subsequent to a lifeless traveler. That’s the factual story. Later, after telling this story round a couple of campfires, I heard the identical story from an individual in Arizona—besides now it was the “King of Bulls, exacting revenge on those that imprison his folks.” Or I ended an individual from robbing an outdated grave, and later heard a narrative about a complete band of vigilantes touring the midwest to kill grave robbers. Two folks residing in a lighthouse ultimately morphed right into a story a couple of lighthouse that solely shone within the presence of two lovers.
This mix of fable and fact is what makes WTWTLW particular, the distinction between folks’s on a regular basis lives, their small struggles and smaller victories, and the following tall tales. You possibly can watch as American legend is woven earlier than your very eyes, a mix of truths and half-truths and a whole lot of distinct experiences. You will see tales handed from individual to individual, every retelling exaggerated a bit extra till what’s left bears no resemblance to the place you began. A foolish outdated man you meet within the woods turns into “The Leatherman,” a ghost who’s wandered the nation for 200 years. A mother admonishing her youngsters in Southern California turns into a narrative about two youngsters who encountered a monster. And so forth and so forth.
It’s the type of sport that left me consistently questioning what was subsequent. I believe that’s what’s saved me coming again every evening, regardless of the gradual tempo. There’s a lot to see, and just like the vacationers you meet alongside the way in which there are tales for everybody. Possibly you’re into hopeful tales, or tales of revenge, or love, or disappointment, or just like the priest possibly you’re simply right here for the ghost tales.
America has all of them, and shortly you’ll too.
It’s fascinating to play WTWTLW in an period the place increase myths is a bygone artwork. Expertise, a lot as I like it, has made America smaller, left us much less room for a Jersey Satan or a Bigfoot to wander the woods. If you wish to know the true story of Casey Jones, you’ll be able to go read about him on Wikipedia. If tomorrow you heard inform of Paul Bunyan, a superhuman lumberjack with a pleasant blue ox companion, you’d anticipate to see the pair on YouTube by mid-afternoon. It’s the world we dwell in.
WTWTLW makes room for 2 Americas although, side-by-side: An America of legends and an America of the mundane. And it’s the place the 2 intersect that you simply usually discover the actual “fact”—a bit exaggerated, possibly, however nonetheless hanging on one thing extra essential than the occasions themselves, one thing that speaks to the human situation in a manner pure information couldn’t.