I love a good old school adventure game, and I have been known to dabble in Japanese film and anime. So, my interest was piqued when I heard about The Silver Case, which seems to combine all of these elements, particularly as its previous obscureness lends it a certain mystique.
The Silver Case was the surprisingly conventional debut game of Grasshopper Manufacture, a developer with a strong cult following and better known for making highly-stylised, violent, and offbeat action games such as Killer7, No More Heroes, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Originally released for PlayStation in 1999, it never reached a Western audience. Studio head and writer Gochi Suda (who goes under moniker Suda51) did want to release The Silver Case outside of Japan, but he had strong concerns over the proper translation and localisation of a text-heavy game full of references to Japanese pop culture.
Seventeen years later we’re finally being treated to an English PC version, complete with revamped HD visuals, an updated UI, and music remixed by Silent Hill audio legend Akira Yamaoka. I’ve just been checking out a free demo of the first chapter over on Steam.
Set in a fictionalised Japanese city known as the 24 Wards, the plot revolves around a spate of brutal murders that coincide with the reappearance of Kamui Uehara. The mysterious Uehara was involved in a series of assassinations 20 years ago, referred to as the Silver Case, and thought to have been shot dead by police. It begins with a special forces unit called Republic, of which you are a member, responding to a shooting. Though I believe that later on the perspective alternates between the first protagonist and that of an investigative journalist.
It certainly is an intriguing concoction. The gameplay seems to be a mash-up of inventory puzzles, code riddles, quizzes, mini-games, and long non-interactive graphic novel segments. Curiously, it’s largely set in first-person, the action taking place in a smallish window with story events and dialogue popping up in panels all around the main screen, presented as a mixture of text, static drawings, 3D animations, photos, and even film footage.
The noirish narrative and dynamic storytelling does grab you, and I loved the gritty anime-style illustrations, but the 3D side of it still looks somewhat dated despite having been remastered. I also found the overly busy animated backdrop, an unnecessary flurry of zipping lines and flashing words, to be rather distracting. Though not quite as irritating as the grindy teleprinter noise that plays as dialogue materialises.
Also, I’m not quite sure what’s going on with the control scheme. Despite having apparently been reconfigured for modern PCs, exploring the environments really takes some getting used to. Essentially, you’re moving a square at a time using tank controls, with separate buttons for looking up and down and a clumsy radial interface for interacting with your surroundings. It feels equally awkward whether you’re using a keyboard, mouse (by clicking on direction arrows), or gamepad, and there’s no possibility for rebinding the keys.
As such, I feel these niggles might be a barrier to a lot of people in what otherwise promises to be a fascinating game. I was wondering how the original version would have looked and played. There are options to mix and match between the vanilla and HD versions of the music, UI, movies, movement speed, and so on, but I’m guessing these only work in the full game.
Anyway, you can check out the demo for yourself here. A nice touch is that, if you do decide to buy it, your progress from the trial version can be carried over. The Silver Case is out on Friday (7th October) and will be available through Humble, Playism and Steam.