by Tomasz Pudlo


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A literary feat undermined by its puzzles, December 22, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2004

"Audacious" doesn't begin to do justice to Gamlet. Harry Potter by way of Portnoy's Complaint with a soupcon of Shakespeare; kabbala, pubescence, the luminous, somehow innocent attraction that sin holds for those just cresting adolescence; there's a lot to take in here, and the author's voice is bold and assured, weaving together the abstract and the vulgar to devastating effect. The writing is elliptical, content to take its time and draw the player into the world at its own pace. Themes and echoes are everywhere.

Frustratingly, though, this pregnant, compelling premise is swallowed up by overcomplicated puzzles which aren't sufficiently integrated into the game. Perhaps I'm just not clever enough at coming up with solutions, but it felt like important objects weren't always mentioned, and some of the puzzles seem to presume more knowledge and perspicacity than I could muster. I'm still not sure where the clock combination came from. As a result of the difficulty, I found myself forced to the walkthrough sooner than I would have liked, which broke the spell of immersion the game had been weaving up until that point; the fact that instead of evoking an "ah-ha!" the solutions left me wondering how I was supposed to come up with this stuff didn't help matters.

Worse than the difficulty, however, is the way that the puzzles become more and more contrived as the game progresses. Lighting a lamp, finding a hamster, raiding the kitchen; these are all reasonable actions, and a certain degree of spelunking in the PC's father's study makes sense given the premise, as well. But too quickly, the game falls prey to increasingly arbitrary puzzles, with little connection to the story beyond the necessity of padding the length. The game very much lost me once I entered the elevator; this new, fantastic world felt colorless and generic compared to the dim, claustrophobic house below. There's a symbolic logic which continues to work even here, and the prose continues to be strong, but ultimately the latter portions of the game are a disappointment.

Overall, Gamlet perhaps tries to do too much; cramming so much characterization and puzzling together is a tricky business, and the game might have been better served by privileging one over the other. As it is, its skewed, distinctive vibe makes it one of this year's standouts, but its flaws do far too much to weigh it down.