Wailing Heights Review
Wailing Heights Review
An entertaining game with creative artwork, original music, subtle humor and quirky characters. Interface challenges may be more than some gamers are willing to forgive.
Posted: 06/27/16 | Category: Review | Developer: Outsider Games | Publisher: Outsider Games | Platform: Linux, Windows, Mac

Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure
Release date: April 27, 2015

Outsider Studios is an independent game development studio established in 2011. Based in Northern Ireland, it was formed by Stephen Downey, a comic and game artist, and Scott Grandison, a computer scientist. Their previous projects include a set of very diverse titles: Shaking Safari, Break the Bully, Magic Mike: The Moves, and UFO Stomp.

In a complete departure from all previous works, Wailing Heights is a musical adventure game that features comic book artwork and an original sound track. The story is set in the town of Wailing Heights – a haven for the undead that includes zombies, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves.  

We are the Deadbeats...  
 

The game opens with the announcement that the last member of The Deadbeats, a legendary British rock band, has passed away. Media attention turns to the band’s one-time manager, the androgynous Frances “Bite Me” Finkelstein, who is the last living link to the band. She's invited to Wailing Heights where she immediately lands in jail, charged with the crime of "Being Alive."

Enter public defender for the deceased, Soul Ghoulman, who offers to assist, and then sets off to work the legal system. Frances is then approached by an undead cellmate who, in exchange for a cookie, gives her a "Musical Possession Wheel."  This enables her to take control of other bodies by creating a musical verse that includes a name, something loved and something hated.

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After using it to possess Soul Ghoulman, Frances’ own unoccupied body is stolen and the game is on to get it back. Thus begins an adventure that involves (1) formulating a plan to retrieve her body, and (2) executing the plan by temporarily possessing whatever being (e.g., vampire, a zombie, a ghost, or a werewolf) is best suited for the task at hand.

The undead have alternate forms with special abilities that can be used to further your objectives. Vampires fly, werewolves follow a scent and ghosts become invisible. Part of the game’s challenge is figuring out what body you should possess and what form you should choose in order to succeed in a particular situation.

Get Ready for Adventure...
  

Wailing Heights is a 2D point-and-click adventure that is played from a third-person perspective. The artwork is a collaborative effort between several artists, resulting in a wonderful blend of comic book styles with a mix of animation and background graphics. Individual character backstories are provided in a comic book format with still frames.

The soundtrack for Wailing Heights is delightful. With lyrics by Stephen Downey and music composed and performed by other talented musicians, the result is an eclectic mix of styles that holds the player’s interest. The theme song, “We are the Deadbeats,” is a catchy pop tune that's reminiscent of the British Invasion bands from the 1960s. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along after a few hours of game play! The entire game is rich with music, as the deceased members of the Deadbeats have continued their musical careers in Wailing Heights and have diverged into different genres as solo artists. Each performance is unique and professionally delivered.

Outsider Games has done an impeccable job on voice-overs and the accents and voices used complement each of the quirky characters that you encounter. The dialog is very clever and, if one's paying attention, there are references to TV shows, products, and movies that will make you laugh. Each game character has a name and a song lyric that are equally entertaining.

As delivered, game navigation is a bit challenging with a keyboard and I would recommend that one use a game controller instead. Keyboard navigation is accomplished with the directional arrows or the WASD keys. A single key is used to initiate an action (by tapping) and to select dialogue (by holding down). I remapped this function to my mouse button and was then able to play using my right hand to navigate with the directional arrows and my left hand to select with mouse clicks. This was a definite improvement!

Puzzles are "find-and-use" inventory exercises that are either a stepping stone towards an objective or are directly tied to possessing someone. All solutions make logical sense and there are adequate clues provided in the dialog to keep you moving forward. Before taking control of a body, you must discover the owner’s name, what they love most, and what they hate most. The majority of gameplay involves overcoming challenges to acquire this knowledge in order to possess others and move closer to the goal of reclaiming Frances’ body. Once you’ve taken back her physical form, the end game is a surprising and satisfying "battle of the bands" which tests your ability to create rhyming song lyrics by choosing your words carefully.

And if you let us bite you...
  

This is an enjoyable game that is very entertaining and not terribly difficult. For me, however, the "fun factor" was somewhat decreased by interface challenges.

Be prepared to do a lot of traveling between locations. Patience is required as the undead, in their natural form, move at a very slow pace. Things can be sped up a bit when you're occupying the body of a vampire, a ghost or a werewolf by switching forms to use faster modes of travel such as flying, gliding or running. For zombies, however, be prepared to grab a cup of coffee and relax as Debbie Decay saunters down the streets of Wailing Heights.

Patience is also required during character switching. There's a set of events that happens each time you use the possession wheel. Musical notes appear, the "possessee" and then the possessor are bathed in light, and a song lyric is played. This doesn't take an inordinate amount of time and is a nice effect in the beginning. It soon begins to drag the game as you use the possession wheel over and over and over. This is exacerbated by the fact that you cannot move until all of these events have completed.

My primary frustration with Wailing Heights was caused by the way you interact with objects in the environment. When you're (very) near an active character or object, a "thought bubble" with the letter "A" appears above the body you are occupying. This is your cue that you can click to begin a conversation or select an item. The appearance of the "thought bubble" cue is dependent on your own position relative to the active item. If you pass by something too widely or don't stop close enough to it, the cue won't be triggered.  For me, this meant I ended up stuck on multiple occasions because I'd not been in the exact position to trigger a cue and know that an item was active.

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Finally, if characters and objects are located close together on the screen, it's difficult to determine what's triggering the "thought bubble." In the picture above, clicking could either initiate a conversation with the muscular vampire or send you up the stairs. The downside of re-selecting a dialog tree by accident is that there's no way to abort so the entire conversation must be repeated before any other action can be taken.

You can be a Deadbeat too...
 

At the end of the day, Wailing Heights is a game worth playing. It's a light-hearted romp that's fun and entertaining. In terms of core game elements, Outsider Games has created a solid adventure with a clever story that showcases their artistic and musical talent.

For me, however, the game experience could've been much better had the developers made different interface-design decisions. I would have liked to see some indication that an object in the environment was active or have had the ability to click on an object to initiate an action. Instead, I found myself exploring scenes using a search and rescue pattern to ensure that no cues had been missed. And I listened to the same dialog many times when I couldn't tell what object or person a cue was referencing.

Grade: B-
 
Entertaining game with creative artwork and original music.
+ Fun factor is enhanced by subtle humor and quirky characters.
+ The Possession Wheel makes for an interesting and diverse game experience.
 
- Interface challenges may be more than some gamers are willing to forgive.
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Trailer:
 

 

System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows 7 or higher (32-bit not supported)
Processor: Dual-Core 1.6 GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT/AMD X1650 XT
DirectX: Version 9.0
Hard Drive: 8 GB available space
Sound Card: Sound Card
 
MINIMUM Mac:
OS: Mac OS X 10.7.4 or higher
Processor: 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000
Hard Drive: 8 GB available space
Sound Card: Sound Card
Additional Notes: 32-bit systems not supported
Specials from Digital Download
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