Memories become the narrative in this storytelling game, but is Justin's hindsight of the game 20/20 in this review?
Platforms: Switch, PC
Developer: TeamHindsight, Joel McDonald
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Website: Hindsight - Annapurna Interactive
Merriam-Webster defines hindsight as "the perception of the nature of an event after it has happened." There isn't a game that is more accurately named than Hindsight, as this is precisely what it delivers. Hindsight is the newest game Annapurna Interactive has created. It is a lovely little game that resembles a point-and-click adventure with a little of 'I Spy' tossed in. It evokes many emotions as we journey through Mary's memories, life journey, and relationship with her parents. Let's take a stroll down memory lane together as we review Hindsight.
That may look like a screen transition effect, but it's actually the first thing you'll see in the game.
Right out of the gate, Hindsight doesn't follow the typical gaming convention of standard start menus. Launching the game throws you right in, peering through the silhouette of thick foliage; this helps set a sense of immersion. Here, you're introduced to the core mechanic of Hindsight. You advance through memories by exploring your environment, clicking on phantom images of yourself or others, diving into objects, and moving things around, revealing ways to traverse. As you quickly discover, Hindsight drives you to explore your character's past, mainly focusing on the relationship she had, or rather didn't have, with her mother.
Hindsight is a well-thought-out story accompanied by a soft-spoken narrative written to tug at those emotional strings creating madeleine (not the cake). Through discovering memories, we learn about Mary's past from the moment she was born and through major life-altering events that leave both a euphoric and melancholic taste in your mouth. I don't want to touch too much on the story here as it is heavily driven through memories; after all, Hindsight is essentially an interactive storybook.
Triggered memories will weave a captivating story, and you might want some tissues handy.
Mechanically speaking, Hindsight takes advantage of its art style through various color palettes, music, ambiance, audio cues, and more. Direction or visual cues is another component that Hindsight accomplishes seamlessly. In memories, we see characters who look or point in a direction. Naturally, this gestures the player towards specific focal points without breaking immersion and forwards the story without giving literal directions to players.
Throughout the game, as Mary narrates her past, Hindsight remarkably reminds us of those moments in life that trigger nostalgia. Whether those memories are from a song we hear, or the smell of our favorite foods being cooked, it nails that sense of yearning for moments of past experiences. This style of gameplay allows us as players to relate with Mary. A great instance of this is as a little girl Mary was stargazing, watching the moon. After we investigate the moon, the once little girl, now older, stares from atop a skyscraper in a light and noise-polluted city. She's gazing upon the moon, which triggered her memory of that fond summer night with her dad. It drives us as players to reminisce and relive moments of our lives. Moments in life when we had little to no responsibility and undo all the busy and hectic schedules we now live with daily.
At this point, we find Mary pondering the 'what ifs' of her life, all the things she wishes she could change or have done differently. She has fond memories as a child but begins altering into a rollercoaster set of emotions as she grows into adolescence and adulthood. The once fondness of her childhood turns sour with uncertainty, distractions, confusion, anger, regret, sorrow, disgust, and more. We're now met with a distant relationship with her mother, who she feels makes no time for her family. In Mary's eyes, her mother's business life precedes her family.
Something tells me that isn't going to be a normal cup of tea.
While in her childhood home, Mary begins pouring water from a kettle. Soon the cup fills over, and water starts flowing into the room, all while revealing momentary flashbacks of arguments with her mom. She begins wrestling with those moments of her past with her mother, accompanied by the reality of cleaning out her childhood home. The player is flooded with unsettled memories while water rises growing into an ocean. The game tries to create a relational sense of drowning, as emotions can create heaviness and make us feel it's too much to burden.
Hindsight does many of these things well, but unfortunately, a few hiccups remove you from this relational and emotional immersion. Some moments in the game are more interactive than others via maneuvering objects. For one example, you must set the dinner table and place all the dinnerware in the correct order. The game's maneuvering mechanic fails to deliver on this. It 'functions', however, not to the level of response you would like. I turned my mouse sensitivity to its near-max setting, and my motions were still quite limited. It felt like I was pushing objects through the thickest mud while grinding against sandpaper. Thankfully these minigames didn't happen often.
"I was left wrestling with feelings of our own mortality while on the verge of shedding some tears."
Another downside to Hindsight is how linear it is. Again, the story is well-developed but falls short as far as any replayability goes. Some moments allow you to 'choose' different things you wish to keep as you pack up Mary's childhood home; however, I don't see it affecting the game's outcome. There are moments in which you may choose left or right, as an example. Still, all this accomplishes is potentially uncovering new memories to explore. In the end, do my choices really impact the outcome of the game? Do the choices you make matter? Are they there only to unveil new memories and feel more relatable with Mary as the items you choose are shown at the end of the game?
These aren't horrible things by any means, as it may be intentional for players to relate more with Mary. I understand this isn't a 'choose-your-own-adventure' game but having some account of replayability would be nice. This leads me to one of my more extensive complaints about the game. For Hindsight being a game that is roughly 2-3 hours in length and possibly shorter with no replayability that I could see, I feel a $15 price point is steep.
Don't get me wrong, in the end, Hindsight is good. It evokes a lot of emotion and does a great job telling Mary's story while involving the player through interactions. I felt, in the end, I was left wrestling with feelings of our own mortality while on the verge of shedding some tears. There are a lot of things for players to relate to in Hindsight. The art and music do an outstanding job setting the mood, the visuals are pleasing, and the progression is done very well. However, in hindsight, it feels lacking with no replayability or sense that decision-making matters. Overall, if narrative storytelling in short bursts is your thing, you should find some value in Hindsight.
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