A single mother’s world is turned upside down when her only daughter mysteriously vanishes.
Silent Scream: The Dancer tells the unsettling story of widow and single mother Jennifer Garsten Lee. In this hidden object adventure by Indonesian developer Maximize Games, we’re given a good example of how an original game premise can still be devised and how traditional art can be used for interactive games. Unfortunately, we’re also given an object lesson in how difficult good storytelling is and how a promising game idea can go terribly wrong.
Jennifer, the heroine of the story, works as a dancer at a club owned by the local mob boss when the story begins. One night as she’s leaving the club she’s accosted by a sinister figure who for reasons we don’t understand, hits her over the head. She wakes to discover her daughter missing and everything she thought she knew strange and unfamiliar. From then on, she sets out to find her lost daughter and discover who’s behind what seems to be a series of bizarre events. This set up promises an engaging and disturbing mystery; the problem is, once you get past the original premise, the game’s narrative, logic and overall quality slide quickly downhill.
Before discussing how Silent Scream: The Dancer goes off the rails, let’s look at the few ways it stays on track. Its most obvious advantage is its oddly stylized 2D artwork. Looking as if it was drawn using colored pencils with a watercolor wash, it’s visually different than any other game in the genre. Both characters and environments would be right at home in a Tim Burton children’s book and for the most part, are used effectively. The music and sound effects too are creepily evocative, consisting of unintelligible whispers and a theme that sounds suspiciously like Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” from the movie The Exorcist. Sadly, the sound (and everything else) goes to the dogs the minute the characters start talking.
None of the voice acting is great but the main character—the one you have to listen to the most—is inexcusably bad. The actress’s monotone delivery even in the midst of the most stressful situations makes it sound as if she was drugged right before the recording session. It’s tough to listen to and repeatedly undermines the game’s tension with unintentional humor. More disastrous than poor voice acting however, is the title’s careless approach to logic. Aside from the main character hardly reacting to nearly being killed and witnessing some seriously disturbing things, there’s an overall weirdness to the way she goes about well…everything. How many mothers go to their child’s daycare, find their child missing and then tiptoe around the sleeping daycare manager, trying not to wake her up? And who stops the search for their possibly-abducted daughter to go look for an old lady’s cat? These kinds of things make no sense and the game is full of them.
Adding to the lack of overall logic is the way interactivity and puzzles are handled. Everywhere she goes, Jennifer sees objects she can comment on; sometimes she can pick these things up and sometimes she can’t. What’s odd is that there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when an item can be collected which forces you to return to areas far too many times, checking and rechecking whether they’re still glued down or not. Also, within individual locations you’ll need to open a door or pry something off and there’ll seem to be plenty of viable tools right nearby, none of which you can use. The game forces you instead, to march across town to an entirely different location to find what it sees as the necessary object, a process that four out of five times, feels completely contrived. Because of this, about midway through the game, the seeming willful disregard for common sense becomes so annoying, you might find yourself pressing the hint button just to move things along.
In addition to issues with voice acting and game logic, Silent Scream: The Dancer is hamstrung by cross-cultural (to us) awkwardnesses that result in unbelievable character interactions, a truncated ending and a paltry bonus chapter. Translation appears awkward whenever written text is shown on props and in newspapers. And while vaguely odd character exchanges are never a good thing, they’re minor compared to the game’s unsatisfying text-only ending and even less satisfying ten-minute long bonus chapter.
At first glance, Silent Scream: The Dancer seems well on its way to being a thrilling hidden object adventure. Regrettably, this favorable first impression gets swept away by a series of development mistakes that include poor acting, badly translated dialog, unpredictable interactivity and lazy storytelling. Although the game’s quirky artwork and interesting concept promises an entertaining gaming experience, they’re no match for these failures and the result is a half-baked hidden object game that’s outstandingly skippable.