“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” Arthur Conan Doyle
Amber County is the first instalment of a point-and-click, puzzle game in which you play as blind detective, Steven O’hara, who solves cases with his dreams. It was developed using Unreal Engine by Francesco Cucciella, a.k.a. Fafri, who cites Twin Peaks as Alan Wake as sources of inspiration. It was released on itch.io in December 2018 on a ‘name your own price’ basis.
On the surface, the game has an interesting concept and is undeniably an impressive feat for such a small team. Unfortunately, I felt it failed to deliver overall and after the suggested average 2-3 hours playtime I had not completed the episode and found myself reluctant to continue.
The in-game music has a jazz and blues feel and is well suited to the game’s narrative but whilst pleasant enough at first it is limited and can get a bit repetitive at times. It is also implemented badly in places with intrusive and noticeable volume changes where they don’t belong, such as during dialogue when the view changes from one character to another. Sound effects were unremarkable, used excessively in place of voice acting and also badly balanced in terms of volume.
The art style was part of what drew me to the game, assuming its stark and fairly basic appearance was representative of the protagonist’s visual impairment. Fafri also refers to a “cool old camera effect” but I could not understand the reasoning for the addition of the film reel appearance and found it distracting.
The character’s blindness does not appear to play much part in either the gameplay or the narrative and as a result, seems almost shoehorned in as a way to unnecessarily justify the minimalist style. This felt somewhat insensitive, not unlike the game’s portrayal of mental health issues. Detective O’Hara has recurring nightmares in addition to an ‘alter ego’ named Io, he is on a work-mandated “holiday” where he will lie on a couch and receive therapy sessions that are referred to as “meetings”. The stereotypical representation and underlying suggestion that therapy or mental illness is something to be ashamed had an air of misunderstanding and toxic masculinity that left me feeling uncomfortable.
Whilst on his “holiday”, Detective O’Hara is recruited to investigate a possible suicide case, lending itself perfectly to the point-and-click, puzzle genre. Amber County fails to utilise its theme to create captivating puzzles which lack logic and consist mainly of trial and error or such limited interaction options that the answer is obvious.
Since this game is the work of an individual developer I can overlook a lot of the more minor issues, such as the clunky controls, volume issues, and jerky cuts between plentiful, short cutscenes and gameplay, but the main issue I have with this game is the writing. There are a lot of grammar, spelling and syntax mistakes, understandably as the game is in English, which is not the developer’s first language but the frequency made them very distracting and difficult to ignore. More importantly, the characters lacked individuality or development meaning the dialogue was often stilted and unengaging.
Amber County has an intriguing concept but was an ambitious project that doesn’t quite manage to engage the player as it could. Small bugs, illogical puzzles and writing issues hamper enjoyment and progression. Overall I would not recommend it and would redirect anyone looking for a point-and-click puzzle to something else, such as Distraint or What Never Was.