Even The Hotspots Are Whispered

HIGH You can pet the dog AND the cat!

LOW Having to pause constantly for loading screens.

WTF Was that carrot laced with arsenic?

The little village of Sainte-Monique-Des-Monts, like all little villages, has a huge and terrible secret. A sin was committed here, and in 1896 the town’s efforts to cover it up result in summoning an evil creature that whispers to its folk in the darkness, recounting their crimes. Those it has not driven away seem to be going mad and on the verge of suicide. As the town’s doom approaches, the parish priest from a nearby village comes to The Whispering Valley to investigate.

The priest poses the first of The Whispering Valley‘s many problems, because while most of the characters are voiced, the protagonist is silent. Although he finds multiple dead bodies and witnesses several suicides, he does not audibly pray, nor does he even apparently cross himself. At the sight of his friend’s torment he callously says… nothing. This is not because he’s supposed to be some every-man — the whisperer torments the main character with visions of his past, so he is supposed to have a stained history. The decision to go with a silent, invisible cipher seems at odds with the specificity of his character and is of no apparent benefit.

The gameplay is standard point-and-click adventure fare, albeit inflected with a touch of horror atmosphere thanks to some effective sound design. Although The Whispering Valley’s spaces are three-dimensional, the protagonist cannot move freely. Instead, the player selects the next place to go. The movement hotspots are small and are sometimes not well-differentiated from the surroundings, especially outdoors. As a consequence, even figuring out how to move has the feel of a pixel hunt.

Ironically, this is good training for the puzzle gameplay, which is more of the same. A great deal of The Whispering Valley involves finding keys to open up houses or rooms within houses. Even in the few well-lit areas, these and other items are frequently hard to spot against the background. At one juncture I needed a knife and had to resort to meticulously scanning every inch of every screen to find it, a task only lengthened by the considerable spatial padding and numerous (and substantial) loading screens.

This is a long-solved problem in the genre – indeed, by virtue of “Look” this problem was solved before adventure games even progressed as far as using a mouse. A hotspot-highlight key is the modern version of this affordance, and The Whispering Valley desperately needs one.

Once an item is in hand, The Whispering Valley becomes rather straightforward. While it has several avenues of action in the beginning, around the halfway point it basically boils down to having only one thing at a time for the player to do, which is of a piece with the lack of interactivity. There is no “Inspect” action, and on most screens the only thing the protagonist can do is move. In some areas — most notably a large meadow in the second half of the game — there’s nothing to really look at.

The Whispering Valley at least avoids the worst kind of “adventure-game logic” as even the lengthier chains of action at least make sense internally. There are only a few true puzzles, and while I thought most of them were fine, I would be remiss not to mention that two of them critically rely on sounds that are not replicated in the subtitles. Players who can’t hear the sounds will not be able to move further.

I genuinely hate giving an earnest indie a bad review, but The Whispering Valley just gets too much wrong. There are positive points in its lovely environments and solidly effective sound design. The game also has a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, its padding, linearity, inaccessibility, lack of a main character, and pixel-hunt gameplay result in an experience that is dull and retrograde, even by the standards of the industry’s oldest genre.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Studio Chien d’Or. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with a AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM , and a single GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card using driver 526.86. Approximately 3 hours 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 not been rated by the ESRB. Considering its content and themes I would rate it T. Numerous characters commit suicide in various fashions during the course of the game, some of them bloody. In addition, some already-dead bodies are discovered that are gory. Depression, suicide, and murder are discussed throughout. There are also a few jump scares.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  All dialogue in the game is subtitled, though the subtitles cannot be altered or resized. However, this game has two puzzles that absolutely rely on sound cues and in my opinion it cannot be completed by players who may have hearing issues. This game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Sparky Clarkson
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