All The World’s A Stage

HIGH It unconventionally expands Hamlet’s universe.

LOW Slow progress between plot developments at times.

WTF The developers indirectly hate on Romeo and Juliet.

Elsinore is, essentially, a reiteration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a distinct perspective. This third-person point-and-click adventure puts the player in the shoes of Ophelia, a woman stuck in a time-looping reality that lasts four in-game days and automatically resets when she dies or when the player chooses to.

During these four days the player can interact with a dozen or so of Elsinore’s inhabitants and learn about their motivations, daily activities and future plans. While the narrative initially retells the events of Hamlet up until the point of Ophelia’s death, the time loop gives her the rare opportunity to change the course of a tragedy written 400 years ago.

The key to Elsinore‘s gameplay is the knowledge gained from conversations over time and by taking different paths before Ophelia’s death. This knowledge is called “Hearsay” and can be conveniently reviewed at any moment via a menu. Hearsay is also gained by witnessing events and examining items found throughout the compact Castle of Elsinore. By leveraging this knowledge-over-time and initiating dialogue based on it, Ophelia can completely overhaul the actions and events that occur.

The mechanics of this adventure require moving Ophelia to the right place at the right time and directing characters to take certain courses of action. NPCs can also be followed on their routines, making revealing some of their secrets easier. When Ophelia learns about upcoming events, they’re added to a convenient timeline including location and relevant characters, so following it is key to obtaining new information.

Although Elsinore looks like a love letter to Shakespeare’s work, it’s also a tragedy in its own right, and the time-looping aspect is only the start of this unique take on Hamlet. As things progress, Ophelia learns more about being stuck in time — without spoiling anything, there are plenty of twists that keep the overarching narrative interesting, and the truth often comes from an unexpected source.

It’s this sense of mystery and unexpected turns of events that keep Elsinore going, but while I was curious to see it through to its end, there are points at which tedium becomes an issue. There were many instances when I didn’t learn anything new or messed up a loop — easily done due to some frustrating design choices.

The first is that there’s an option to fast-forward (an in-game day takes 24 minutes of real time on default speed) but its use is imprecise since there’s only a single speed and releasing the button is the way to stop it, meaning there’s guesswork (and unavoidable inaccuracies) since no target time can be chosen. Missing key events because of this was frustrating.

The other issue I had was with the registration of possible paths through the story. In Elsinore, this takes shape in a journal with character profiles, collected Hearsay and storylines of interest, which are similar to quests. If I didn’t know what to try next, I could follow quest descriptions to find new possibilities. Later in Elsinore, I had access to a feature that informed me of the fates I had unlocked versus ones I had yet to discover. 

While this journal is a great idea, it struggles with the balance between clarity and challenge. Difficulty would usually come from vague logs that described Ophelia’s thoughts about the outcomes, but gave too-subtle indications of where these paths could be picked up. Some quests were straightforward and required me to simply follow a character for two days, but others took several loops to make progress, with the occasional slipup in fast-forwarding requiring replays. 

While the issues I encountered lessened the overall experience for me, Elsinore is still a rewarding title that delivers on an artistic level thanks to its inspired narrative direction and character backstories that significantly increase Hamlet’s depth and (gasp!) enrich Shakespeare’s work. However, the quality of the routes differed, and some tragic destinies felt more fully realized than others — for example, sometimes Ophelia’s journey ended with something as simple as who her lover would be, rather than what would become of her world. There’s also a focus on exploring different sexualities in Elsinore, and while the idea isn’t out of place, they aren’t executed effectively and felt a bit like fanservice, of sorts.

Putting my issues aside, the idea of participating in a full-fledged Hamlet universe works astonishingly well in Elsinore, and in contemporary society where classic literature is losing popularity, making such content accessible to a new audience is admirable, and I can only appreciate the ambition to revive Shakespeare through my favorite medium. Elsinore might be tedious at times, but I suppose that only enhances its status as a modern and authentic take on Hamlet.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: Elsinore was developed and published by Golden Glitch. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: Elsinore has no ESRB rating. Themes like death, murder and sex are frequently mentioned. Sex scenes are not explicitly shown, but implied through dialogue. Murder and death are explicitly shown, but in a cartoonish style without a focus on gore. As extreme as the themes are, the delivery feels innocent.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is dialogue-based and fully subtitled. The subtitle size isn’t adjustable, but the speed is. Playing with sound off for half of the game didn’t change my experience in any way. This title is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: There are no remappable controls, but the only player input is through the left mouse button. Using only this button, the player can navigate the menu, move the main character and choose dialogue options.

David Bakker
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