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Sci-fi adventure set in ’60s Germany is a beautiful, artsy letdown

Trüberbrook’s weird narrative barely holds together

Truberbrook - musical performance at night in a German village btf/Headup, WhisperGames
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The point-and-click adventure genre has seen a smattering of new entries over the last few years, but I hesitate to call it resurgent. That void is being filled this week with the release of Trüberbrook on PC, a game with a pedigree as unusual as its art style. While the world itself looks fantastic, Trüberbrook’s writing and gameplay don’t match its sharp visual style. And after finishing the roughly four-hour experience, I’m beginning to think that the project might have been better off as a short film instead.

The main character in Trüberbrook is named Hans Tannhauser, an American student of quantum mechanics who has won a vacation to a remote German village. He’s less Gordon Freeman, however, and more Guybrush Threepwood — albeit one that spouts science-adjacent mumbo jumbo every once in a while.

The game is billed as a sort of science fiction procedural — think The X-Files or Twin Peaks — with a hefty dose of rural Germany and set during the 1960s. Squint hard enough and it’s the Pacific Northwest or somewhere in Maine. The biggest nod to Germany comes in the all-day buffet of warmed-over appetizers at the local hotel. Both narratively and visually, the game could be set almost anywhere you’d find mountains and pine trees.

The PC version of Trüberbrook offers the same controller-based interface as the console versions. It was so buggy, however, that it was essentially unusable. We completed the game with mouse and keyboard.
btf/Headup, WhisperGames

While the environments are somewhat generic, they’re rendered with a striking art style. The team behind Trüberbrook has tremendous experience building miniatures, so it chose to blend that skill set with a technique known as photogrammetry. The result is a world that looks tangible and real, but populated entirely by digital characters.

What’s truly remarkable about Trüberbrook is its lighting. Physical sets were photographed in a number of different settings, each one made to simulate a different time of day or season of the year. Light sources come from both off screen and on, and developer btf clearly took its time to explore all the possibilities that miniatures made available to them. Effects include what look to be LEDs embedded inside tiny light fixtures, and flashlight beams playing over simulated cave walls. The way that btf was able to blend this real-world lighting with computer-generated characters is truly remarkable. The result is a game that looks like you could reach out and touch it.

My suspension of disbelief vanished, however, the moment the main character opened his mouth. At times it sounds like the voice actors in the game aren’t really sure what the words they’re saying actually mean. Mispronunciations and weird syntax abound, creating a very jarring experience.

The camera never zooms in to focus on the characters in Trüberbrook. Often, major plot points are delivered by characters with their back to the player. Similarly, many animations are reused. Others that would contribute to the understanding of the action are simply omitted.
btf/Headup, WhisperGames

Even more disorienting is the storyline itself. Without spoiling too much, Trüberbrook feels like a bad episode of Doctor Who. Long sections of exposition, delivered by static characters who often can’t even be bothered to look toward the camera, do very little to make anything clear. Rather than lingering in certain interactions, I found myself clicking rapidly through the same dialogue options over and over again, searching for the right sequence to move the action along.

Most disappointing of all is that the gameplay itself is merely perfunctory. In motion, Trüberbrook is achingly linear, and relies on a series of barely connected tasks. Almost nothing in the game can be described as a puzzle. It’s more of a pixel hunt, with a contextual interface that does all of the work for you. The end result is a world that’s beautiful to look at, but a game that fails to entertain in any meaningful way.

Trüberbrook is available starting today on Linux, Mac, and Windows PC. Ports for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One are scheduled to launch on April 17.

Trüberbrook was reviewed on Windows PC using a final “retail” Steam download code provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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