If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers Review – A play in three acts

Gare – Tuesday, December 14, 2021 7:05 PM
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If on a winter’s night, you’re in the mood for something, well… moody, I have good news. If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers – henceforth “Winter’s Night” for the sake of brevity and my sanity – is a pixely point & click adventure game that caught me by surprise one evening as I was browsing through the endless virtual landscape that is the Steam storefront. There it was: a game with jaw-dropping pixel art and a truly intriguing narrative, offered completely free of charge. After a quick double take to make sure it really was free, I prompted to download it and played through the whole thing in a little over an hour, and now I’m here to tell you why you should do the same.

On a night as cold as people’s hearts

Winter’s Night, as its title might very much suggest, tells the tale of four travelers meeting on a train, although in truth, it only really tells you three individual stories, with the fourth person serving a bit of a different role. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t technically a horror game, at least not in the “ooga-booga the scary ghost flies in your face” kind of way. Instead, there is a sense of foreboding terror and somber melancholy that oozes through every pore of the experience. The subject matter of each story is disturbing, to say the least – from homophobia to racism, the three chapters explore the dark underbelly of human society, but without slapping you across the face with their messages in obtuse, heavy-handed ways. There are subtle references and visual metaphors peppered throughout the narrative, all presented with the help of some shockingly evocative pixel art, and while the conclusion of your journey – as well as the true nature of that fateful train ride – isn’t much of a mystery, the way it’s presented is nothing if not intriguing. Winter’s Night, ironically enough, is precisely the type of game you’d want on a cold, winter night – its haunting atmosphere and gripping mini-stories will likely have you glued to your seat until you’re done.

A method to the madness

“But how does it play?” you might ask after reading that paragraph of me praising the narrative, and the answer is that it plays… adequately enough. Winter’s Night isn’t a particularly puzzle-heavy affair, mind you, and it’s absolutely not a game designed with hardcore adventure gamers in mind. For starters, each episode is contained to a very small number of rooms, meaning there’s only so much you can explore. Similarly, the game sort of guides you toward the right path while also giving you things to do on your own; it’s never a mystery what you should do next, but you do sort of have to inspect all of your surroundings and occasionally memorize a few things to progress. The bottom line is that the puzzles aren’t particular taxing, but the game doesn’t feel like it’s on auto-pilot, either. What’s more, each task you complete ties neatly and organically into the narrative, as more often than not they serve a very specific purpose in terms of portraying each character’s inner demons, eventually paving the way for their inevitable downfall.

Long story short…

So that’s the long(er) version of why you should play If On A Winter's Night, Four Travelers. The short version is that it’s free and good and only an hour long, so why not? Sure, it’s short, but there are far worse adventure games out there – and many of them aren’t free. So find yourself some time during one of those lazy winter evenings and dive into this brief snippet of the macabre. You’ll probably end up wanting more of it by the time you’re finished. I know I did.

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