Pentiment | game review
An unusual setting for a game makes for a great time.
Game summary: Walk in the footsteps of Andreas Maler, a master artist who finds himself in the middle of murders, scandals and intrigue in the Bavarian Alps. (Xbox.com)
My 'Best of 2022' post pretty much gave away what my opinion of Pentiment was going to be in this one, even if I hadn't finished at that time. I have now finished it and my opinion of it is even higher than it was then, confirming that I was correct about it being my favourite game of 2022. Saying that, while I enjoyed it immensely, it will absolutely not be for everyone and this is one of those occasions - which should be the standard - where what's written is more important than the score at the bottom of the page.
To start with, there's the art style, which is perfect for this game, matching illustrations from books of the time and a constant reminder of the 16th Century Germany setting (although Germany technically didn't actually exist yet as a nation). There might be some put off by how simple everything looks coming from a well-known developer like Obsidian, but you absolutely shouldn't let appearances put you off.
What might put a lot of people off Pentiment is the choice to have no voice acting, meaning there's a lot of reading to be done thanks to the huge amount of dialogue to get through. You're going to have to pay attention to all that text too, so don't think you can just click to get rid of and move on - there's very little point playing this game if you're not prepared to keep track of what people tell you.
And you will need to keep track as you attempt to solve multiple murders that take place over the course of 25 years in the small Bavarian town of Tassing that the game takes place in. There are multiple suspects for each incident, and it's going to take you trekking back and forth across the town and speaking to everyone who might have some information that can help to try and piece it all together.
Slight spoilers, but you should be aware that you don't ever find out if the two people you single out as the guilty parties for the first two incidents are actually responsible or not, so don't worry if you feel like you've missed something vital and failed - this isn't modern-day detective work where evidence and testimony can be examined and cross-examined to produce as exact an answer as you might like.
What Pentiment will remind you of though, is that how you treat the people you speak to and who you do accuse of being guilty will have repercussions that will carry across the years, affecting how the other characters react to you - you are going to piss people off, no matter what you choose. For the most part, this works and feels in keeping with the difficult lives the people of Tassing have to force you as the player to experience a difficult choice and harsh consequences too.
I do have to say that I'm not sure if I 'mis-played' the first part of the game, as it did feel like there wasn't really enough time to investigate all the potential suspects, leaving you floundering just as much as the player character, Andreas Maler, to provide answers when the time comes to punish the guilty. I didn't feel like I had any strong bias towards one suspect or another, but had so much to say about the one lead I did follow that the game took that as my answer.
After that, it wasn't an issue. For the second murder, even though you can't truly solve it, at least I got to explore every lead as much as I wanted to and fully investigate everyone who could've been responsible and being able to form an opinion based on far more information than the first time. That felt far more satisfying, even if it was quickly overshadowed by the violence and destruction that affected Tassing at that time.
I did also like that you could choose aspects of your character's background (quick note: Andreas isn't the only playable character in the game), which gives you more dialogue options depending on what you pick and making for a decent level of replayability if you want to choose to behave differently the next time around - the fact that you don't find out who was guilty of committing the murders means you can even choose different people to punish and see how the reactions of the town play out differently too.
Again, Pentiment is not going to be a game for everyone as it's quite slow-moving and the lack of definite answers - including the very short time you're given to investigate the first murder - might well prove off-putting to a lot of people, but I really, really liked it nonetheless. Then again, I do love games that allow you as the player to affect the story or change how the protagonist(s) behave, and this game does both excellently.
Pentiment is a great game that I would fully recommend as long as you go into it with the right expectations: this is committed to being a 16th Century murder mystery with a large cast of characters to get to know over a 25 year span, so don't go in expecting to just flash through it without paying attention to what's going on around you. Show a little patience and give it the time it deserves, and you'll be rewarded with a fantastic experience.