With the modern push toward high-end graphics and even augmented and virtual reality applications, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s often the storyline that really makes a game into an immersive experience. Such is the case with Somewhere: The Vault Papers ($3), a new interactive text adventure game by independent development studio Norseman Interactive. In the game, you take on the role of a random person who gets contacted by a journalist caught up in the midst of a major whistleblowing conspiracy. As a fan of conspiracy games and old-school text adventure games, this one definitely intrigued me enough to take a closer look, and while it wasn’t the most intricate game I’ve played, it definitely didn’t disappoint.
Somewhere: The Vault Papers begins with you receiving a seemingly random message from somebody named “Cat” who has clearly confused you for somebody named “Orion.” As you engage Cat, you discover that she clearly is in the midst of a sticky situation and needs your help. What’s particularly unique about the game, however, is that it makes a serious effort to play itself as a real-time experience, making you feel as if you actually are chatting with somebody on the other end, both in terms of showing progress indicators while “Cat” is “typing” and leaving you waiting between messages, sometimes with the anticipation of wondering what she’s going to say next — much like you would with a real text conversation.
However, the game doesn’t stop there… after about 10-15 minutes of gameplay, the game will let you know that Cat is busy so you probably won’t hear back from her right away. The game puts these breaks in about where you would expect them to be in the conversation flow, adding to the real-time feel of the game. For instance, if Cat is on her way somewhere, she’ll basically “sign off” and let you know that you’ll hear from her later on. You can then close the app and get back to your real life while you wait for her next message, which will appear via push notification. So if you’re looking for a quick play through experience or quick gratification, this isn’t the game for you, however I couldn’t help being reminded of one of my favourite 2000-era games Majestic, which used a similar real-world immersive approach, taken to a much deeper level — Majestic went so far as to actually make phone calls to you as well. The world of Somewhere: The Vault Papers doesn’t go nearly to that extent — it’s confined to text messages only within the app itself, but Norseman does a good job of making it feel like you’re carrying on these conversations with a real person.
For the most part, your responses will be limited to predefined choices, however at a few points within the game, you’ll need to type in text answers to help Cat solve clues, and the game even goes so far as to require you to look up directions for Cat using Google Maps and other sites, and at one point Cat even asks you help her out by researching a specific topic online that you’ll need to know about later to help her escape a dangerous situation. This crossover into actual online searches further adds to the feeling of realism in the game.
It took me about seven days to play through Somewhere: The Vault Papers to one of the endings, and there were a few missteps along the way. Let Cat get caught or killed and you’ll need to go back to a prior checkpoint, and while the game doesn’t require you to restart from the beginning, even going back to the last checkpoint will still play through all of the normal communication delays. This was the one part of the game that I found particularly frustrating — I didn’t mind waiting for the normal passage of time when the experiences were new, but it got annoying when I had to wait for Cat to travel somewhere a second time.
The good news, however, is that once you reach one of the successful endings of the game — and of course there are several possibilities for how things can turn out — you’ll then be able to not only go back and change any of your prior choices to try out different paths, but you can also enable “Fast Mode” which will remove all of the normal “Cat is busy” waiting delays, allowing you to play through and try and find the other endings much more quickly. I especially had fun with that part of it, as I really like branching plot lines in games like this — I’m that guy who used to try and find a path to every page in the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” books — although I was a bit disappointed that although the waiting delays are removed, you’ll still have to sit through the delays of waiting for Cat to “type” and of course when you’re playing through different branches, you’ll be seeing a lot of the same text.
While I found Somewhere: The Vault Papers ended a little bit sooner than I would have hoped, it’s probably fair to say that’s mostly because I had gotten so engrossed in the story that I really didn’t want it to end, although the first ending I found also came as a bit of a surprise as it seemed to wrap things up a bit too quickly. While Somewhere: The Vault Papers isn’t a game for everybody, if you’re like me and enjoy text adventure stories that will draw you in, and don’t mind waiting between segments, it’s definitely worth a look.