I used to read a lot of books when I was younger, until gaming came along and replaced it; video games becoming the ultimate blend of media, with music, story, reading and immersion wrapped into one fantastic package.
But perhaps if I had the power Etienne Quist has in The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales, I would be more into reading these days too.
Usually if a game comes with an isometric viewpoint I will avoid it like the plague. I am not saying isometric games are bad, it’s just a personal preference. Exceptions to that rule apply of course, and in the likes of Command & Conquer or Jurassic World Evolution, that viewpoint works.
The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales has changed my mind on other genres using the isometric (top-down) view. That said, The Bookwalker also makes the most of a first person viewpoint too. That may sound weird, but trust me, this game gets plenty weird. Good weird, but still weird.
See, Etienne has a special power, capable of entering a book and interacting with the various worlds and characters as he sees fit. Pretty cool, right? Now you see why I would read a lot more if I could do the same.
Anyway, Etienne has been banned from writing for committing a crime. He has to check in with police and must behave for the duration of his sentence. A mysterious organisation calls him up with an offer, asking him to retrieve (steal) various magical items from books using his powers. So you could be stealing Excalibur in one book or Thor’s hammer in another; each level coming with its own unique world and characters to explore and interact with.
While inside a book, which is the main part of the game, The Bookwalker uses an isometric viewpoint of the world. Exploring each room one by one, battling enemies as they appear, the game really holds your hand. In fact, exploring is perhaps the wrong word to use. Using clues in-game, you must find each object and leave, working choice based options that will alter the story, leaving room for replayability.
Battling enemies however is not The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales’ strong point, leaving point and click based adventuring to utilise turn-based RPG mechanics that feels like a clunky shift. Add to this the fact that the battling is basic and sloppy, I can’t help but think it should have made the most of a more action based manner. Turn based RPG with limited options, combined with unresponsive action choices at times make for a frustrating part of the experience.
Outside of books and battling, there is another part to The Bookwalker – the real world. When you are in the real world, things are played out from a first person perspective. This is really cool, feeling unique as often you will need an item to progress in the book that is not around in the world. This means you must leave the book to find the item in real life, bringing it back to the story to progress. It is genuinely innovative and fun to see this swapping between worlds mechanic. Sadly with the hand holding – being told “Oh we need a sledgehammer, my neighbour has one”- instead of figuring out the solution, means the novelty is drained quickly.
It doesn’t help that when in the real world the game struggles to keep up a consistent 30fps, which is confusing considering the small apartment building you have to walk around in. Some polish and refinements here would have made for a far better experience as things just feel sluggish and murky, especially compared to the world of the books which hit 60fps without much of an issue, most of the time.
The audio in the game is quite inconsistent too. Things like footsteps and the noises of doors opening don’t always sync up correctly. This brings you even further out of the immersion and when combined with the sloppy framerate, The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales becomes quite annoying. There isn’t much that particularly stands out soundtrack wise either. A killer accompanying set of themes would have elevated this game slightly and it screams for a big neo noir jazz riff in the dystopian real world.
I would gladly play a more polished and refined sequel to The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales. The two main characters are likeable, and the whole concept of travelling into the different books is good. Unfortunately it is let down by the combat, glitches and audio that lead to frustration.
Should there be a fix to those issues, as well as the weirdly low framerate of the real world sections, then there could be an absolute knockout of a franchise waiting to come to life.
The Bookwalker: Thief of Tales may not top many game of the year lists, but it is a unique experience that is fun to play throughout its short runtime.