Interview With The Assassin

HIGH The protagonist is thoroughly believable.

LOW An unsatisfying ending.

WTF The horse gulping down apples in a single bite.

Grounded human drama is something we have an endless supply of in other forms of media. In the videogame industry, however, it’s the sort of thing that could only come from a small studio not beholden to a major publisher.

Set entirely on a ranch and read with the cadence of a stage play, Adios is about a man attempting to abandon the sort of lifestyle that would be the foundation for more conventional games. It’s a quiet, low-key meditation on living a fulfilling life, and in this business, that’s one of the most exciting things an indie developer can give us. Even if Adios didn’t largely succeed at what it was trying to do, a character piece like this feels like a vital step in broadening our understanding of what types of stories can be told in this medium.

Our unnamed protagonist is a middle-aged pig farmer who’s spent the last fifteen years doing something unseemly for the mob. (I don’t think it’s ever explicitly stated, but the implication is that he helps them dispose of bodies.) When a liaison arrives one morning with a delivery, the farmer calmly tells him that he’s calling it quits, knowing full well that one doesn’t “quit” from this line of work. Walking away means a bullet in the head.

The colleague wants his longtime friend to reconsider, as he’ll be the one to carry out the deed should the farmer remain firm in his decision. So, the two men spend a day together at the ranch, one reflecting on his life choices and the other insisting that this doesn’t need to be the end.

Adios is no more than an hour long, and that hour consists almost entirely of conversation with an occasional chore like milking goats or shoveling manure to keep our hands busy. It’s a bit clunky to play – there are two different “interact” buttons, for example, and the game feels indecisive about which one applies to any given situation – but that’s hardly a deal-breaker for an experience this relaxed.

Each of the scenes, separated by title cards, is a fascinating little snapshot into the farmer’s mind. We get a few glimpses into his history with the mob, but most of the anecdotes that he relays to his colleague simply contribute to a gradually-growing picture of what feels like a tangible human being. Voice actor Rick Zieff does a lot of heavy lifting by lending the character a gruff world-weariness that would make even poorly-written monologues convincing, but the dialogue is strong throughout, and the snippets of the farmer’s life that developer Mischief chooses to put a spotlight on are particularly entrancing.

The farmer has the natural wisdom of someone who’s lived a long and interesting life, but he’s not all-knowing or overly capable. He can provide a full rundown of the North American chestnut blight because he takes pride in the massive tree on his estate that survived it, but he thinks “Kreugerschmidt” sounds French because distinguishing between foreign languages is not a skill he’s ever needed. He’s also reconnected with God late in his life, making him one of the rare videogame characters that uses his religion as a moral code rather than an excuse to be the villain of the story.

The farmer is such a believable and well-sketched figure, in fact, that Mischief eschews opportunities for players to bend his personality to their liking. What few dialogue choices we get are inconsequential, and oftentimes Adios will present us with options that we can’t even use, as they’re too candid for the mild-mannered farmer to speak out loud. It’s a clever way of using the interface to build character, giving us an inner monologue and showcasing how conflicted our protagonist still is, even at the end of his life.

Hell, there’s one scene where the two men go out skeet shooting, and any player who attempts to aim their shotgun at the hitman and pull the trigger will simply earn an achievement titled “Nice Try.” This isn’t the kind of work where we can just alter the protagonist’s motivation on a dime.

Unfortunately, Adios’ one major misstep is when it suddenly becomes about self-reflection and player expression in its final moments. The ending is so abrupt and unsatisfying that I initially assumed there were multiple endings. That’s thankfully not the case, but it leaves us with the problem that the one ending we do get doesn’t provide enough to chew on.

Giving the player a say in how the final sequence unfolds – even in a manner that doesn’t ultimately affect the ending – seems to indicate that Mischief wanted us to project ourselves onto this character, but that’s an odd eleventh-hour choice for an interactive drama that consistently showed that players were not at the helm of this ship.

It’s also one of the few moments when Adios doesn’t overtly communicate what the protagonist is thinking, which is a bold move that only works to highlight how little we actually know about this guy. He’s a believable human being, yes, but the sources of serious remorse in his life – involving his dead wife and estranged son – get precious little screen time. This is one of those rare videogames that could have been longer, as I don’t have enough information to evaluate whether the farmer is content with his life choices at the end of the day. I enjoyed spending time with him, but that’s the extent of it.

The narrative designer behind Adios also did Paratopic, a trippy, lo-fi, Lynch-times-ten horror game from a few years ago that everyone should play. Clearly, this is a guy interested in pushing videogames out of their comfort zones, and that’s always something I’ll champion even when a game like Adios doesn’t completely stick the landing. In an industry full of people who fancy themselves master storytellers but can rarely back it up, it’s refreshing to play a title that feels well-studied in more traditional narrative forms. I hope Adios is successful, and that we’ll see more like it.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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

Parents: As of press time, this game has been rated M by the ESRB. It contains Violence, Blood, Use of Alcohol, and Strong Language. There’s plenty of discussion about unseemly things, but there’s almost nothing inappropriate onscreen aside from some occasional mild profanity. I’d say anyone who’s mature enough to want to play this game should be allowed to.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Audio cues play zero vital role. Subtitles are available, though they’re not perfect – sometimes they don’t quite match up to what characters are saying, and a few lines of dialogue are missing subtitles completely. It’s an infrequent enough problem that I think those who rely on subtitles will still be okay, but it’s worth mentioning.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. There is no controller diagram. By default, players use the WASD keys to move, and the E key and the left mouse button to interact with things and throw objects. The left shift key and the space bar are used to run and jump, respectively.

Mike Suskie
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