Can you atone for crimes that are so terrible that you have permanently and viciously made someone else’s life worse? It’s the running theme (and not a jolly one) for Repentant, a point-and-click adventure from Anate Studio, a development house from Ukraine.
There’s a temptation to make a connection between Repentant’s themes and the fact it comes from Ukraine. It’s not hard to imagine how the relation between abuser and victim, a dichotomy that Repentant likes to explore, might apply to current events. Whether or not it’s intended – or subconscious – is a question we can’t answer.
Repentant’s main character is Oliver, a man who has reached the absolute bottom and made a bed for himself there. His family have left him, for reasons that become abundantly clear as the game progresses, and he’s steeped himself in alcohol and depression as a kind of retaliation. He keeps calling his poor wife on the phone, trying to reconnect even though she’s far, far better off without him. It’s clear that everyone has lost patience with him, and he’s desperately in need of some kind of intervention.
That intervention happens by accident. On the way to pestering his wife again by phone (trigger-warnings should probably be added to Repentant: this won’t be an easy play for victims of abuse), Oliver wanders into the hold-up of a petrol station. A young woman, Caroline, has pulled a gun on the cashier in the hope of making enough money to pay for her and her sister, and neither of them can afford to survive.
It’s the first in a series of compounding events which leads to the role of abuser and victim being swapped and questioned. You could almost consider Repentant a theatre piece, as it is all set in three locations, using the confines of the petrol station to explore its occasionally refreshing serious tone and mature themes.
There is a counterpoint to that point that Repentant can’t quite shake. It is relentlessly grim, to the point where it teeters on the brink of misery-porn. Every character in Repentant is struggling to the point of suicide, questioning whether or not it’s better to stay alive. Life keeps stamping them further into the gutter, and Repentant’s events take a few more stamps.
That’s partnered with everyone being terrible human beings. When pushed, in stressful situations like these, they admittedly show their humanity. But it’s difficult to ignore the catalogue of crimes and inhumanities that they have participated in before. Can you atone for past crimes? Perhaps, but it doesn’t mean we have to like you; it’s hard to find a likeable handhold on anyone here, in fact.
It can all make Repentant pitch black and nihilistic. There’s no humour, very little redemption and a lot of troubling events, so make sure you like your gaming coffee dark before you buy into Repentant.
As a graphic adventure, Repentant is simple and accessible. Everything is cursor-based, including movement, which isn’t as bad as it sounds, simply because there’s only one location and three scenes in the entire game. Movement isn’t a problem when you’re not required to move. That cursor is then used to hover over interactive elements in the scene, and there aren’t all that many. A quick press of the Y button also highlights those same elements, so you can have a handy cribsheet if you need it. There is a limitation to how many times you can use it, but the number is high enough that it never becomes a problem.
Items are picked up and stored in an inventory that can be accessed by moving the cursor to the top of the screen. We would have taken a more button-mapped approach to accessing it, as dragging the cursor can be a slow pain, but – again – there are so few interactions in Repentant that it never truly bothers.
The puzzles have simple objectives. You need to call your estranged wife, then you have to access a backroom in the petrol station, and finally you have to escape. Why are you doing those things? We’ll keep that from you, as Repentant only has a few secrets, and they are worth keeping safe.
Logic, for the most part, is sound. Only on the rare occasion did we question whether human beings would actually do what Oliver is doing, or feel that we couldn’t have worked it out for ourselves. Again, and we keep coming back to this, Repentant is not a big game, in any definition of the word, so the number of combinations and permutations is small. You will bump into a solution at some point, out of sheer law of averages.
We suspect it would have had more of a problem if it was bigger than it was. As a bit of a point-and-click enthusiast, nerdily playing every one that we can get our hands on, we’ve developed a bit of a hate-list for things the genre absolutely must not do. Repentant breaks them willy-nilly. Items are visible, but can’t be picked up until the game wants you to. There’s no reason why the game couldn’t give you the item now: an inventory is an inventory for a reason, as you can store things there, for long periods if needed. Instead, we mentally tagged the item as unimportant to the game, but – of course – it was important.
There are other quibbles, like characters suddenly developing dialogue after the most innocuous of events. We found ourselves stuck after picking up an item, but needed to chat to someone (whose dialogue-tree we had previously exhausted) to progress. They didn’t have anything to say that related to the item, so where was the logic in that flow?
The honest truth is that not everyone is bothered by these kinds of things. And, hey, Repentant is so small and short that it tends not to matter.
How long should a graphic adventure be to warrant £8.39 of your hard-earned cash? That’s the next question you will have to ask yourself, as Repentant is more of a novella than full story. It is, as we’ve mentioned, only three scenes in total and is set entirely within a petrol station. It’s also just shy of ninety minutes long, and could be completed in fifteen minutes if you had a walkthrough. Is that enough for eight big ones? We lean towards suggesting that the price is steep for what’s there. We’ve seen shorter point-and-click adventures surfacing at the £5 mark, and we can’t help thinking that Repentant would be better suited at that price point. But there’s the Ukraine connection, so perhaps that will factor into your decision.
Repentant is not a family-friendly romp, and is a large step away from your traditional LucasArts-style adventure. Play it after Return to Monkey Island and feel the whiplash. We’d argue that it’s a little too dark, wading around, looking for misery to heap on. It’s Requiem For a Dream, the graphic adventure.
But it’s also extremely short for the price, and that might be the dealbreaker for potential players. While it has noble aims and some tight controls and logic, it’s also finished in a heartbeat. The grimdark story can’t quite sweeten the deal, so you’re left with a purchase that might make you more regretful than Repentant.
You can buy Repentant from the Xbox Store