Even before we were confined to our homes, people weren’t going to the theater as much as they used tor. It’s okay though, because the developers of Punk Notion have brought the theater to us in the form of The Last Show of Mr. Chardish. The game’s title makes the setup pretty clear, but I’ll cover the bases: Players are go on a journey exploring the final performances of renowned fictional actor Robert Chardish. It’s a game that values an emotional experience in combination with puzzle-solving gameplay. I showed my ticket and was treated to quite the performance…
The Play’s the Thing
The story is easy to follow and has some real feeling behind it: Players take on the role of Ella, a former actress living in the 1970’s who has returned to the town of Lindfield to investigate the local theater. She’s been summoned by a letter sent by her late colleague and former acting partner, Robert Chardish. Aided by a recording of what is supposedly Robert’s final interview, she explores the dilapidated theater revisiting old sets and experiencing surreal adventures related to them. It’s an interesting setup for a story and even more so as a context for the different puzzles.
The Shining Moments
The game has two distinct worlds: The Lindfield Theater (exploration) and the Spectacles (puzzles). I have to say that the theater environment has such detail that it almost feels like a real walking tour. The textures are sharp, the lighting feels natural, and all the sounds blend into a lovely yet melancholic ambience. With all the old set pieces and backstage areas, you feel like you’re exploring the ruins of a once-great establishment. What adds more depth is the sheer amount of collectible writings that give various perspectives and glimpses into the theater, as well as Mr. Chardish himself.
In contrast, the Spectacles are vibrant and colorful, with visuals that help define their fantastical nature. Each one has different rules and gameplay that make them distinct from each other while still being connected. They range from long to short and slow to fast, and fall at different points on the emotional spectrum. They also try to blend the fantasy element with the theater setting giving a sense of fantasy that exists in reality. Overall, the Spectacles give the sense of a fleeting dream which I feel helps us better understand Mr. Chardish as a character.
Finally, there’s the effect of the dialogue and music. While most of the dialogue happens in the background of exploring the theater, hidden objects in each Spectacle provide brief sound bites giving insight into specific characters. The voice-acting is quite clear with the actors making a good effort to put weight behind their words. They speak in such a way that if you were to miss something, you’d feel a bit bad about it. Luckily, the music is there to convey any emotional words you didn’t catch. The theater has a subtle, but a strong melody following Ella throughout while the Spectacles each have songs that complement their themes and visuals well.
The Missed Beats
The main disadvantage that theater actors have to film actors is that they only get one take: Mess up during a performance and no magical editor hand will descend from on high to correct it. Despite his ambition, not even the great Mr. Chardish is safe from mistakes. To start things off, there’s the level of challenge. While the puzzles themselves are varied with different types and mechanics, they’re not that difficult. Most sections are straightforward, making puzzles feel like a slight bump in the road rather than an obstacle to overcome. While you can argue that the puzzle element takes second place to the story, I’d say that games like Myst and What Remains of Edith Finch had story-related puzzles that were also challenging.
Now we get to the other side of the visuals and graphics. While the Lindfield Theater is very detailed with good quality, the Spectacles drop the ball slightly. I understand the decision to make them more stylized than the theater, but my main issue is one of interaction. There were a few times that my character went through obstacles, taking some of the magic away due to clipping issues. A couple of moments happened where obstacles didn’t feel like they were there and sections where the character lost shading. The character animation tries to be natural, but there are stretches where it just feels stiff and robotic… although, this was acceptable for the robot characters.
Coming to the sound, it also suffers from some technical issues. I’ll admit that I don’t have the most powerful PC in the world, but considering how light this game is, I didn’t expect to encounter that many audio problems. There was a sequence that started to glitch and caused all sound to cut in and out at random intervals. It lasted longer than I thought it would, and seeing as this is a game where the ambience, sound effects, music and dialogue are important the narrative, I felt robbed of the experience. Lastly, while I do think that the voice acting is generally solid, there are times where the dialogue feels unnatural and certain speakers have random moments of inconsistency that catch you off guard.
After the Play…
Do I like the story of Mr. Chardish? Yes. Do I think it’s a challenging game? No.
The theater is a magical place that can be a foundation for so many things. I can work as a wondrous setting for a game, and The Last Show of Mr. Chardish has done its best to do just that. While some technical issues and gameplay problems hold it back, it really does have a heart that will draw you in — if you let it. If you’re seeking a night of theater indoors, then pick up a ticket for this show before they sell out.
The Final Score: 7
This review is based around a PC version of the game. The Last Show of Mr. Chardish is currently available for download and purchase on PC via Steam.