Hi folks! You may have noticed we have a schedule now, of course we never stick to a schedule but we certainly do try. This week Seb checks out the indie game Ghost of a Tale. The graphics and art style are super awesome but Seb doesn’t seem too impressed with the stealth mechanics. Anyway, have a look and see if it’s something you want to keep on your radar! You can access the video by clicking the title of this post, or by checking out the panel on the right hand side of the website.
Transparency disclaimer: We generously received a preview code of Ghost of a Tale from the developer.
It is worth noting that the vats majority of this is simple repetition of what is said in the video preview.
Ghost of a Tale is something that I feel is actually a little underdone in the current era of game development: a game utilising anthropomorphic animal characters. Given how much fun and how appealing I thought Armello was, I sort of feel that this is an area that has some potential for a few novel ideas and interesting games. Especially because so often these days we are presented with that argument that the very setting of “fantasy” is becoming played out (dwarves in mines, elves in trees, humans being cunts, etc).
Of course, you have to be careful about this kind of thing, because consistently playing as anthropomorphic animals or wanting to at least is dangerously close to furry territory. And that’s absolutely downright heretical!
Jokes aside for a moment, Ghost of a Tale, by Lionel “Seith” Gallat (who is apparently famed for animation work done previously with Dreamworks and Universal Studios) is the story of the minstrel mouse Tilo, who has been captured by rats and thrown into a dungeon.
The game falls under the broad umbrella of action-adventure, with primarily stealth-based gameplay interspersed with puzzle/problem solving. As Tilo you are much weaker than the enemies you encounter and so must scamper around the edges of their vision and hearing, utilising distractions and hiding places to get where you need to go.
The puzzles on the other hand tend to fall under the category of finding items hidden around the world, or using specific clothes to do specific things. For example, one needs to disguise oneself as a guard in order to progress at one point. Or you need to wear some item of clothing to find one particular quest item, which you need to get a quest item for another quest, and so on ad nauseum.
The game thus also follows a slightly older trope of video game design by which, as you progress and get access to different “abilities” via different disguises the map begins to open up a little more and you find secret and alternate routes back through areas you have already traversed. It’s not quite as extensive as perhaps it could be, indeed the locations themselves are not particularly large either, but what is present is rather enjoyable and well designed.
An important thing to be said about the game is that it LOOKS fabulous. Tilo is, frankly, cute as fuck. The rats are ominous looming figures, slow-witted and wearing armour, red eyes glaring out at you. The environment design is great, with the slightly crumbling medieval architecture combining a sort of dark fantasy feel with the more child-like aspect of using animal characters. Seith quotes Dark Souls as one of his primary inspirations and while I wouldn’t ever go as far as to compare Ghost of a Tale to Dark Souls, one does see that there might well be a few inspirations in the way that the environments of the world and characters within it are all a bit gloomy and run-down.
As I said at the start as well, I love the whole animal characters thing. It’s cool, fresh and interesting, and allows for all kinds of interesting and amusing possibilities. Plus the animals that you do meet are all fantastically designed. There is a stage, for example, where you come across just a DEAD spider. And because it was about the same size as Tilo it was honestly absolutely terrifying! I think that at this stage of development, the aesthetic is by far the most polished aspect.
That said, it’s possible that it is down to early access shenanigans but, sometimes the animation can be a bit wonky. Tilo’s mandolin has a habit of breaking into spazzing shudders if you break into a run. Should you accidentally try and get through a gap which is just slightly bigger than Tilo, the camera will go mental and try and embed itself in the back of Tilo’s eye-sockets, and there’s the usual rapidly growing list of objects clipping in and out of each other.
The stealth and movement is rather reminiscent of that from Styx: Master of Shadows, minus any of the climbing. Hiding out of sight and darting from cover to cover. In truth the comparison to Styx largely comes from an observation that, as sometimes the stealthy movement relies on moving slowly and carefully, it feels designed to be played with a controller and so using the keyboard made sneaking and jumping feels more than slightly clunky. This is especially weird given that the game is supposedly “primarily a PC title”.
Another downside here is that the stealth is nowhere near as polished as it was in Styx. Avoiding rat guards tends to be fairly straightforward, but even if they hear you or see you, escaping them feels incredibly easy. One simply needs to dash around a corner and hide in the nearest hiding place and the guard will give up and return to patrolling, even if you dove into the cupboard practically under the nose of the rat. So for all that the rats look dangerous and menacing, there is absolutely no threat, which removes a great deal of tension which I believe the game could be capable of generating. I mean, if you can’t think of a good reason why you couldn’t just run the whole length of the game, get all the guards following you and still not have any problems then perhaps the stealth needs to be made more challenging.
As well as this, the guards follow one of the older tropes of PC game design where they don’t seem to have any real reason for their patrol routes other than as barriers for the player. A prime example occurs very early on where on guard walks down a corridor and stares out a door for a minute then turns back up the corridor, walks a few metres and then stares blankly at a COMPLETELY shut door. This simply makes the guards feel like automatons on rails rather than living creatures actively trying to prevent you from escaping. As well as this, while guards will break from their paths to chase you, the second they lose track of you they will immediately return back to what they were doing previously, giving no indication that you were ever there.
It comes down to the fact that the AI of the game is absolutely godawful, guards are easy to avoid, easy to predict and it is easy to work the system so that getting past any of them begins to feel more like a chore than a stealthy, sneaky challenge. With the progression of stealth games lately this is becoming something which I look at a great deal more closely than I used to, and here it is simply not all that great.
The story of the game is a mix of slightly cliché but also still rather intriguing. There are more than a few classic motivation-related-to-family tropes, but on the other hand it is presented in quite a unique and interesting way. The lore of the game seems rather interesting as well, with exciting characters, locales, history and races. Even the basic information of the “mouse people” is fairly cool in its own right. It shows a nice level of depth and imagination which can absolutely aid in making a story that much better, suggesting that the writing is really pretty tip top.
This is primarily what my analysis of the game comes down to, that a lot of the mechanical aspects are unfortunately awful and could use a lot more work. However, if one examined them as merely a method by which you get to explore and see more of the world and the game, then it might actually be entirely worth it.
So it comes down to the fact that if you are someone who enjoys story and exploration as a primary focus of a game then Ghost of a Tale is very definitely up your street. On the other hand if you are hoping for an intense and exciting or even challenging stealth experience then you are going to be left wanting.
Of course, the above does need to be taken with the major qualifier that the game is still very much in early access. At the time of writing Seith has said that the game is currently around 30% complete, and who knows what the remaining 70% will involve.
Personally I SUSPECT that the remaining 70% will actually simply involve expanding the story as it currently cuts off in what feels essentially like the starting area. Hence why I would stand by my evaluation of the game’s content. I suspect it will be more maps, more story, more characters, but even if the stealth gets more challenging through addition of more guards, it will never really be very good in its current state.
This does not mean very much though, it IS Early Access after all. Perhaps Seith will come back to improve the AI or some other aspect of the stealth to make it better. It’s impossible to predict with complete accuracy.
Thus while I stand by my initial statement, I would add that stealth aficionados should at least keep any eye out for any future improvements to the game.