A Mysterious Vacation in Trüberbrook

In 2017, Twin Peaks, a TV show that last aired in 1991, returned to the screen following a break of over 25 years. Twin Peaks, as I’m sure most people are aware, is a classic sci-fi mystery show, directed by renowned film maker David Lynch. Set in the eponymously named town, it features murder, a quirky FBI agent, and plenty of strong coffee and cherry pie. The Return in 2017 was a landmark series, equalling and sometimes surpassing the original series in terms of scale and drama to become one of the highest rated shows of the year. Talk still swirls about whether a fourth season will ever happen, but given the length of time between Seasons 2 and 3, we may be waiting a while. Trüberbrook clearly takes much inspiration from Twin Peaks, with the lead character frequently talking into a Dictaphone, as well as being set in a mysterious small town. However, the action is transported from rainy Pacific Northwest to the craggy mountains of the German Alps.

Trüberbrook town
The village of Trüberbrook is delightfully quaint.

Trüberbrook is a sumptuously gorgeous adventure game that starts off on a strong footing, but sadly gradually loses momentum as it ambles briskly towards its conclusion. It has a truly splendid visual style, but decides to utilize it in rather rote, traditional gameplay with a plot that peters out just as it was starting to go somewhere interesting. It feels like the work that went into constructing such a gorgeous world should have been coupled with investment in making it interesting to explore in the first place. The end result is a game that certainly looks lavish, but feels decidedly less memorable than it should be.

Trüberbrook has you starring as Hans Tannhauser; a German-American physicist who won a trip to the remote namesake town via a lottery he has no recollection of entering. It’s the mid-1960s, and upon arriving at your hotel and settling down for a good night’s sleep, Hans’ manuscript of his latest university paper is stolen from his room by a ghostly figure trailing what appears to be slime. Things escalate from here, and the game takes you to various destinations including a semi-abandoned sanatorium, old mines, as well as around the town of Trüberbrook itself. The plot is fairly poor, starting on an interesting premise but sadly going downhill the further it progresses. The sci-fi angle remains frustratingly underdeveloped, and its left to a new character about two-thirds of the way through the game to do a huge exposition dump to explain what’s going on. That said, the characters themselves fare a bit better. Every inhabitant of Trüberbrook is uniquely voiced and wonderfully voice-acted, with many actors providing both the German and the English voices of their respective characters. Indeed you can listen to the German voice-acting with English subtitles if you desire. My favourite character was Barbarossa; a neurotic computer who just wants a friend to spend time with.

Trüberbrook newspaper
Only two more years until their millennial celebrations.

Gameplay is very traditional for a point-and-click, but streamlined for modern tastes in some areas. Hans has no active inventory where you must choose what items are usable in what scene. Instead, Hans will pick up anything that may be relevant later on, and if an item can be used, a prompt will appear showing it. Interacting with objects opens a radial menu, similar to that first used to great effect in The Curse of Monkey Island. You can look at an object or person, pick it up, talk to them or use an inventory item. Spacebar can highlight all usable objects in a scene, which prevents tiresome pixel hunting. The puzzles are for the most part nicely put together and not too bizarrely illogical (a common trope for adventure games); I actually had the most trouble with a puzzle in the introduction rather than anything later in the game.

Trüberbrook has a unique artistic style; merging hand-crafted, modelled environments with 3D rendered animated characters, a process called photogrammetry. The result is a kind of effect that looks somewhat similar to Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, minus the stop-motion animation. Every single environment in the game is a visual delight, from the cobbled streets of the town square to the dark, foreboding mines in the mountains above. For the most part, the 3D characters fit into the modelled worlds very realistically, with a proper sense of depth to each scene. The lighting in some sections is especially memorable, from the languid sunlight streaming through the windows of the sanatorium, to the autumnal sunshine reflecting off the lake beside the village square. More than anything else, the real-life models of Trüberbrook is what makes it worth experiencing, because only a few games have ever utilized this effect and this game does it with great aplomb.

Trüberbrook sanatorium
The Sanatorium Paradiso is not as welcoming as it appears.

I enjoyed my time with Trüberbrook, but there was a nagging feeling throughout that this could and should have been better. While my eyes were rewarded with one of the prettiest adventure games perhaps ever made, my brain was sadly not taxed or engaged to such a degree. So much effort was clearly put in to creating the game’s magnificent environments and landscapes that it seems the developers’ kind of lost track of what they were going to have their characters doing during the game itself. What we’re left with feels somehow incomplete, quite like Twin Peaks itself did when it revealed the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer suddenly in the middle of the second season. Trüberbrook is good for a short visit, but you’re unlikely to want to linger longer than necessary.

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