The Silent Age
Joe the janitor toils at the bottom of a thankless corporate hierarchy. When double duty gets dumped on his stylishly shaggy head, he stumbles across warnings of the apocalypse. Can this groovy cat take out the trash and clean up the future?
On paper, The Silent Age is a standard point and click puzzler with a familiar time travel premise. As an experience, it rises above this common foundation with engaging atmosphere, smooth pacing, and pervasive situational humor. I stayed up well past my bedtime just to see it through in one shot – then replayed it later for the details I had missed.
Joe could have been a bland font of exposition like too many other playable characters. Instead, he’s a down to earth Everyman with pragmatic smarts and a focus on staying positive in the face of calamity. His speech is laced with a broad base of knowledge and the occasional pun, sometimes with a remark about needing new material. He describes items and obstacles as if knowing what to do and lacking the means to do it, and reacts – oftentimes with funny or informative detail – when a wrong solution is tried. He does have a naivete that serves the plot, but it follows from being trained to keep his head down and know his place in a mysterious corporation where he can’t know too much. He’s also no fan of modern art – though that’s more a matter of aesthetic preferences, as is his admission to a certain form of macho enhancement.
Joe struggles with the greater turns of events and the horrors he encounters. He treats others with concern, recoiling when the player attempts some act of theft or violence – much to my relief at a point when I feared I had to do a very bad thing with a deadly implement. Joe’s intelligence, empathy, and Bro Average quirks endeared me to him. When his fate became apparent, it carried the emotional weight intended.
Puzzles are logical, enjoyable, and well-placed. I was never stuck for long, and I enjoyed figuring out the trickier answers myself. Said trickery errs on the easy side, maintaining a smooth pace through the game. Puzzles are reasonably varied within the limits of real world sensibility, especially thanks to the status changes of time travel. Machinery fails, fasteners rust, holes gape in the floor, plants grow wild. Great looking pants remain in flawless condition due to the wonders of polyester. I can’t say the same for the far-out wallpaper in a particular apartment, but I did put a disco ball to brilliant use.
Indeed, the ’70s influence is strong within that part of the timeline, from slang to interior design and nods to nightclub tunes and protest songs. The future is a blighted place of isolation and dread. Clean, polished artwork astutely fits each setting, as does background music that should be released for separate purchase. The Silent Age builds on this immersion with judicious tips of a cinematic hand. At certain crucial moments, Joe evades tightly timed danger himself instead of annoying the player with fail states. Even after I learned I couldn’t lose, this sense of urgency spurred me to hurry up when I regained control.
The Silent Age’s context runs deeper than lava lamps and portraits of Honest Richard, as Joe calls the perpetrator of Watergate. The plot is grounded in Cold War tensions, giving it weight beyond its archetype. It also touches on the follies of undeliverable promises and desperation to prove the merits of one’s work. Characters have sensible motives and memorable screen presence, over the top though it may be.
Plot tends to progress in info dumps that I would have preferred to piece together through Joe’s examinations and explorations. A pivotal role is minimally foreshadowed, a major twist revealed too early with enough poking at the scenery. Still, the story concept is solid enough for me to accept its choices of structure.
On mobile devices, The Silent Age is a free download with a paid part 2. The free section ends at an abrupt cliffhanger, but it’s an honest and well-developed teaser for the rest. In my book, $5 was a bargain for a few hours of Just One More Scene and spamming my screenshot button to save the best quotes.