The Last Show Of Mr. Chardish

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Hydra Games
Developer: Punk Notion
Release Date: Nov. 5, 2020


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PC Preview - 'Ars Fabulae'

by Cody Medellin on July 24, 2020 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

The Last Show Of Mr. Chardish is a reflection on the power of creative expression as you explore a variety of magical, hand-painted worlds and piece together the story of your past.

Story-driven games existed long before titles like Gone Home, but that title and a few others solidified the notion to a modern audience that video games can be used as a storytelling platform without the need for fast reflexes or intricate puzzles. We're in a renaissance now, where some of the generation's best titles are given the genre of "walking simulator." Ars Fabulae continues with the newfound genre, and based on our time with the preview build, it's already off to a rousing start.

The game has you taking on the role of Elle, an actress from England who tried her hand at moving to the bigger stage in America. At the urging of her former stage director Richard, she returns to England, specifically the old Lindberg Theater where she first cut her teeth on the craft. The theater is now abandoned, but she goes in and hopes to discover what her former mentor wanted to tell her.

Past the non-interactive sequence meant to set up everything, you take control of Elle in what should be familiar trappings for the genre. Ars Fabulae is played from a first-person perspective, and you wander around and take in the scenery while opening doors and reading notes left behind by the staff. This does a good job of setting up the story, especially when combined with the radio interview on your cassette player. All of this familiarity changes once you pick up a mask on the stage.

When gameplay resumes, Ars Fabulae transfers from the first-person perspective to a third-person view. The graphical style also changes, going from a more realistic look to one inspired by watercolors and papier-mâché. You also change characters from Elle to Robert, who's in a porcelain mask. In short, you discover that you're now transported into one of the plays, which has been brought to life in a world that's larger than the stage. For this play, which deals with loneliness, you're engaged in puzzle platforming, and you manipulate the light to reveal objects or make them disappear. For the most part, the play is a decent length, and while the puzzles aren't particularly tricky, their presence makes the game more engaging than originally envisioned. The disappearing platforms, mannequins, and repeated phrases give off an artistically dreary and introspective mood without necessarily veering into horror territory.

The second play in the preview build is even more intriguing. You now play the role of a robot that wakes up in an abandoned factory. Accompanied by another robot, you try to make it out of the factory before the final train leaves. The gameplay is all about flipping switches, but there are a few moments when you control both robots at the same time, either by moving them both in the same or opposite direction until they reach the switches that they need to hit together. Aside from the symmetry at play, this episode features a ton of dialogue from both robots. Like the previous play, the presentation shifts to a cel-shaded look, with both robots made of cloth. The vibe shifts into a lighthearted adventure that's similar to a Wallace and Gromit short (complete with British accents), a move that sets up the play's finale to deliver an emotional impact.

Thanks to those episodes, Ars Fabulae is reminiscent of What Remains of Edith Finch. The tones shift wildly between the present day and the plays, and it prevents the game from becoming a one-note affair. The plays feature some brilliant stories, and their fantastical nature provides a perfect interpretation of what happens on the stage. The mechanics also differ greatly between productions, so it forces you to get familiar with something new each time. Based on the trailer, there's supposed to be more wild stuff, such as a platformer and a play where you play as a bird. Based on the posters outside of the playhouse, there should be a substantial number of stories before you reach the main tale's conclusion.

After you discount the early technical issues like texture and object pop-in, Ars Fabulae is turning out to be a wonderful adventure game in the making. The theater theme works well in combining so many stories and art styles, while the different gameplay types are enough to entice players who would normally dismiss the genre. Look for more coverage once Ars Fabulae nails down a more specific release date in 2020.

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