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Gaiman with Neil

Leigh Nicholson checks out Neil Gaiman’s first foray into video game development.

It was widely accepted that people would purchase Neil Gaiman’s video game, Wayward Manor, because Neil Gaiman made it. Or at least that’s why I did anyway. Wayward Manor was released on 15 July, after Gaiman and his development team, The Odd Gentlemen, made the announcement almost a year ago. Very little information was revealed about the game ahead of its release, except that you were a ghost in an old mansion trying to get rid of the residents. In the press release, Gaiman boasts, “You want to scare them away, how you do that will take all of your ingenuity and brilliance.”

The concept is a cool one; you have to figure out what scares each resident the most in order to use that fear against them. The beginning narration of a disgruntled ghost prompts that “you must prey on the deepest anxieties of these intruders”. It is a refreshing difference from playing a game which ordinarily only utilises physical strengths and weaknesses. Just how well the game pulls this off, however, is open to interpretation. Not much instruction is offered when beginning the game, and so I found myself imitating arcade games of old where you just hit every button trying to figure out what does what.

Playing a ghost who can’t physically move anything, you utilise ectoplasmic objects in ways specific to each resident. For example, a woman who is presented as extremely vain and narcissistic freaks out whenever her image or clothes are mucked around with. Another, a maid, is frightened of rodents and dust.

I’m not too sure what I was expecting, but maybe it was something closely resembling along the lines of Gaiman’s graphic novels, The Sandman – something a bit darker and visually aesthetic. The most poignant parts were when the storyline was read, in between each chapter, which was beautifully written. Each of the resident’s fears seem to be loosely based around the seven deadly sins, and coupled with the absurd and comical low-res characters running around, the game gave off more of a Tim Burton vibe than some of Gaiman’s own work.

The game is very easy-going and doesn’t require any of the “ingenuity and brilliance” promised by Gaiman. It’s extremely reminiscent of those old semi-educational games popular in the early nineties. Playing Wayward Manor was like playing Zoombinis whilst having an Edgar Allen Poe poem being read to you. It’s a very back-to-basics game, with the same levels and scenarios being presented but with increasing difficulty. Quite a bit of fun, but I am hoping that Gaiman continues to work with the medium to produce something more engaging. Wayward Manor is not compelling on Gaiman’s name alone.