Pentiment Review | Medieval Murder Mystery Mayhem

Obsidian Entertainment has had a hand in producing a variety of unexpected titles showcasing its creative range. This comes through in the studio’s latest release called Pentiment. This 2D narrative-based adventure has you roaming around a series of locations — walking and talking, if you will. By doing this, you can learn about your surroundings, including the current plights of the local town and townsfolk. Despite its small and simple nature, this town isn’t safe from harsh reality and horrific events. You’ll need a sharp mind to figure out what’s going on.

Reading Beyond The Surface

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Much like the religious texts of old, narrative-rich games contain a lot of different stories that people pass on through various means. These stories are passed on in Pentiment as the game tells its own story. You play Andreas Maler, a traveling artist who travels to Tassing to work for the local Abbey. While creating pages for the abbey’s commissions, he ends up mingling in the affairs of the townspeople and the abbey. At different points in Maler’s life, he returns to the town only for a horrific murder to occur. He then decides to find the real killer amidst angry crowds. And, as an artist, you’ll need to think creatively to solve these crimes.

Pentiment Provides Powerful Plot

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When you’re going for a particular kind of story, the closer you can get to the source material, the more effective the story can be. Since Pentiment has strong religious theming, this was brought across in its presentation. Examining the paintings of old cathedrals and illustrations in church texts, you’ll notice a distinct visual style. This game does a good job of trying to capture that style, making everything both vibrant and alive. The movements are stiff, as one could expect in paintings that come to life. However, the characters have a wide range of expressions for sharper details. Considering that the main character is also an artist, it emphasizes the theming even more effectively.

It also really sells the point that you’re an outsider which helps strengthen the idea that your opinion is the most objective. This explains why the townspeople turn to you to resolve something some of them are all too quick to settle. The town of Tassing is quite small, so any visitor becomes quite the event. It then becomes very easy to meet everyone within a short amount of time. There’s a huge cast of characters all with their own personalities, roles, and motivations for the various events, including murders, that unfold. They’re also so distinct that you can remember characters clearly by their faces and appearances more so than their names. This comes into play whenever you’re investigating and you can easily recall who you need to talk to and where you can find them.

That also ties into the concept of time, which functions in a meaningful way. The game doesn’t progress in real-time, instead only passing whenever you participate in certain events. This includes investigating restricted areas, doing tasks for people, and sitting down to meals. Since you have no control over how much time will pass, every time-based decision you make has significant weight. However, knowing how time behaves allows you to plan your moves more efficiently. During meal times, you can predict where certain individuals are going to be in order to guarantee an audience with them. Although time is event-dependent, you’re free to explore as much as you want and move it forward whenever you feel ready.

A Penance

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Narrative-driven games tend to have a generally slower pace. The text-heavy nature make it difficult to maintain excitement. Pentiment manages to hold attention, but it does suffer from a few progression drawbacks. This is most apparent whenever you decide to investigate things out of order.

For example, there’s a portion during the first investigation where it’s possible to find a series of very interesting clues. Each of them has leads that you can follow up on. The problem is that if it’s too late in the day, the characters you’re supposed to talk to won’t be responsive to you. As a result, the continuity is affected, since Maler will write in his journal what he needs to do as if it’s still possible. Since there’s no reliable way to reset progress, you’ll unknowingly commit to a path that you can’t leave. That is, unless you decide to start from the very beginning.

On a different note, even though text is a guarantee, there can be too much of it. Many of the characters have so much to say, but not all of it is important. However, it is important to talk to basically everyone. Maler does well recording the most valuable information in his journal, but you can consider other talks as filler. There’s also no indicator of when some “Will Be Remembered” or which ones will play a role in convincing someone to help out down the line. It has a trial-and-error slant to it, which can be very annoying in a game where lots of text is everywhere.

The Pentiment calls

Pentiment is an interesting title from Obsidian Entertainment revolving around an artist at various stages trying to solve murders and other mysteries in a small medieval town. The art effectively captures the religious themes of the game, with sharp details to balance out the understandably stiff animation. Time plays a valuable and effective role, but can also work against you if interest strikes you out-of-order, assuming you can remember all the text you read and hope you say the right things. Regardless of what you may know about the world of painting, you’d be wise to learn about the pentiment.