Get Along, Little Doggies
I think I can confidently say that I’ve yet to play a game like Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. Equal parts interactive story, adventure, walking simulator, rhythm game, and RPG, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine makes a melting pot of these genres as you yourself explore the grand melting pot herself: the good ol’ U S of A, during one of the bleakest times in her storied history.
And storied it is; a fact players are going to become very intimate with over the indeterminate amount of time spent playing.
Take on the persona of The Wanderer, an unfortunate soul that manages to lose his own to The Wolf (voiced by Sting) in a poker game. In order to get it back, Wolf tasks you with journeying around the country to collect stories. Only when he is appeased by those that you have found can you get back what is yours.
This seems fine at first, until you realize that you will literally be traversing the entirety of the United States (possibly Canada as well, I haven’t had enough time to explore fully yet) on foot to obtain these stories. So be prepared, cowboy. You have a lot of work ahead of you.
Every little blip in the map is a small tale, and each campfire you share has a soul with their own story to tell as well. Interact with as many people as possible, and grab every story that you can. Some will have choices, while others you simply sit and observe as they progress before your eyes. Either way, anything you hear has the chance to be reshaped and grow into a tale bigger than the original telling.
Every Step You Take
Collecting the smaller stories is an easy enough task. Simply walk up to any small building with a floating bubble above it. Pressing the [SPACE] bar will open up a graphic and a narrator will begin telling you the tale of whatever is going on there. Once you’re done, move on to the next one, and the next, and the next, and the next. And so on. And so forth.
Off in the ever-dwindling distance, you may see small bonfire-like lights. These are campfires. It is here where the largest crux of your game will take place. Always stop at these. It’s here that you can rest if tired while exchanging stories with whatever world-weary soul you’ve crossed paths with. These interactions are individually narrated by a highly talented cast of voice actors that continue to add depth to a strangely involved yet abstract experience.
Listen closely as these individuals talk. They’ll tell you stories in exchange for your own, but only if you give them the kind of story they want. If you succeed, there’s an indicator at the top of the screen that opens wider the more as the listener becomes more receptive to your tales. If you get the eye to open all the way through, you’ll receive the opportunity for another chapter in their story the next time you meet up with them. If you fail, you’ll have to keep chasing them down until their story grows.
This is ultimately why it behooves you to collect as many stories as possible. The more variety you have, the more you have to tell your listeners. You can never tell them the same story twice, though, so be sure to switch out your story library in the menu when you get the chance. To help with this, you can check the map to see who’s campfire you’re approaching before squatting down.
All The Best Stories
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine certainly doesn’t fail to deliver on variety. I never once came across the same two stories twice, which ensures that your gameplay will stay fresh as you explore the country for new tales. There were instances where the narration didn’t play, which was rather disappointing. Whether this is an error in the game or not, it’s hard to say, though if its purposeful it’s certainly a strange design choice.
Probably the aspect of the game I appreciated the most was the diversity in characters you meet at campfires. You encounter everyone from a young Huck Finn-type of child to an aged Navajo woman who is looking to get back in touch with her culture after returning to her ancestral lands. Each of these encounters felt finely tuned and real. I legitimately believe I could meet these people in the world today if I went looking. No one is a caricature.
Each of these stories are human tales, and they are coming from human beings.
It’s this aspect of Where The Water Tastes Like Wine that breathes life into what would otherwise be an abstract concept in the line of ‘games as art’. You’re captivated by the stories you find, and you genuinely want to find more. Dedicating the time towards this endeavor is nothing in the face of the reward you’ll be granted in return, the least of which not being The Wanderer’s soul, of course.
Whistle While You Walk
A grand and stylized soundtrack will follow you all along the way as well. Some of these are different renditions of the same song, but they are so varied and unique that players shouldn’t be bothered by this. Whistling along to the songs also helps The Wanderer walk faster too, if only slightly. Hold [CTRL] and then hit the directional arrow buttons for this mini game to take place. It won’t speed things up as much as a train or hitchhiking, but it serves to break up some of the monotony players might feel as they play.
I Hope You Find What You’re Looking For
In summation, it’s really hard to know to whom one could recommend a game like Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. It’s an abstract, highbrow concept that’s more art than game. Yet there’s a soul that lingers deep down between the lines of code and cell-shaded art that makes this title feel as though it’s alive and growing with the contient you’re walking upon throughout gameplay.
I fully acknowledge that this sounds pretentious, but in all honesty it’s simply hard to nail down just exactly how this game delivers what it is. It’s definitely not for the normal gamer, but if you would qualify yourself as such I truthfully feel that is you missing out on the experience Where The Water Tastes Like Wine offers.
This game is a slice of apple pie and vanilla ice cream after a long days hard toil in the sweltering sun. You work hard for what you get, but the accomplishments are the better for it, and so are you.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment; Developer: Dim Bulb Games; Players: 1; Released: Feb 28th, 2018; ESRB: Rating Pending; MSRP: $19.99
This review is based on a PC review copy of Where The Water Tastes Like Wine given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.