Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is the best story-driven game since Edith Finch. The FingerGuns Review;
If you can remember the short history of high production story driven games, you know they have one very common thread. That thread is loss and sorrow. The likes of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Gone Home and last year’s heart-stopping What Remains of Edith Finch tell mournful stories of what has been, what could have been and, in the latter sense, what remains. It’s a genre that can tell a story in a different way to an RPG or an Action title. There’s no real enemies to speak of, you’re not attempting to overthrow a dictatorship. You’re powering through a narrative as if it itself is the enemy, and as it slowly guides you through a story that weaves in and out of joy and remembrance, you’re ultimately left feeling whether or not their conclusion are what we would consider a happy ending. I remember feeling hopeful at the end of Edith Finch, despite the supreme sense of sadness and the scarceness of hope, despite the immeasurable connection I felt to the Finch family even though throughout I never once met a single one of them.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, however, is a wholly different beast. A new kind of interactive storytelling. You don’t have one story to discover, you have hundreds.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is set during the Great Depression ere in the US. After a brief tutorial game of cards with a wolf (above) who stares deep into your soul and tells you exactly what your journey will entail (and is voiced by Sting, no less. Yes. That one), you’re instantly forced to travel across the breadth of the United States to learn of people’s stories. The more stories you collect, the more you can share. The more you learn, the more stories you’ll unlock, along with tales you may have heard before re-told from a new perspective to add more gravitas to the tale as you’re made to tell it on your travels. Stories are your currency, your weapon and your shield as you traverse middle America, learning more and more about the characters you meet and the stories of how they ended up where they are.
The people you meet have little but their stories, and are initially mostly found at campsites, ready to sit around a fire and shoot their narrative payment your way in return for what you may have learned out on the road. These people you meet will ask you for certain types of stories, whether it be funny, scary, action-orientated or sad, and you need to choose from the stories you’ve heard which one you think may suit that need the most. The more correct stories you choose the more the characters will open up to you and the more they will share their truest, most personal story, that you can share with others as you meet them throughout the game. The more you can grow a story to tell something truly exciting or powerful, the more people are willing to share with you.
WTWTLW is unlike anything I’ve played before in this genre. It’s absolutely stuffed with a smorgasbord of unique storytellers, a cavalcade of genres mashed across the entirety of the US map, each with their own heartbreaking tales of their own lives. The male couple that live far out of the mainland in the lighthouse as to appease those who disagree with their union. The man who told me a tale of a goat who spread its wings and stared him down with his dark eyes at a lake. The story of two brothers who hadn’t seen each other in thirty years embracing, only to discover they don’t know each other at all when saying the others name out loud. There’s such a mash of experiences that the game throws at you, it’s like jumping into a swimming pool full of nothing but excerpts from library that was once there in its place, and you spend the game dutifully putting the books back together.
You travel America across a 3D overworld, and it’s here you discover your character is nothing more than a skeleton with a bindle and straw hat. As you explore America you’ll see areas where you can discover new stories, along with being able to take on work to earn actual money to ride the rails and get to different destinations a little faster. This is unfortunately where the game falls a little short of pure magic with technical issues somewhat jarring the experience. Whilst the visuals are basic to an extent the 3D world can still seem laggy and it’s certainly slow to move around, and with travelling a significant aspect of the experience this can be a little frustrating. It’s strange when every other aspect of the game is so finely tuned, so polished and so beautifully presented that the interactive movement of your character is so out of sync with everything else. The games strengths lie in the destinations rather than the journey there, but it would have been nice if there was just a little more polish in this regard.
The games biggest strength though? Its soundtrack. It’s utterly masterful. Composed by Ryan Ike, the Americana heart that beats all the way through is the most important companion throughout Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Influences from bluegrass, jazz and folk, the music almost works as stories themselves and tells the story of a broken American dream that is so crucial to a majority of the stories you hear throughout the game. Breathe the Black is currently my favourite piece of music I’ve heard in a video game all year. Check it out here.
The games primary strengths lie within its storytelling, and the huge selection of authors that have contributed to the game’s characters really bring the entirety of America to life. The writing is quite frankly exceptional, and really creates the somewhat psychedelic atmosphere that follows you around the entire game. The beautiful hand drawn illustrations that bring the characters you meet to real life along with the remarkable vocal performances from some of the industries very best including Dave Fennoy, Kimberly Brooks, Melissa Hutchison, Elizabeth Maxwell and the BAFTA-winning Cissy Jones make the entire land of America feel brand new in every corner you visit. The overarching story is always in the back of your mind as you try to figure out what this all means, when you try to imagine just why the wolf at the table has tasked you with finding the most amazing stories across the entire nation. It’s an ending that rivals the gut-punch of Edith Finch, the heartbreak of Firewatch. I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine was a game on my bucket list ever since its reveal. I realised a while back that narrative-based games, ‘walking simulators’, are starting to turn into one my all time favourite genres. Dim Bulb Games have taken this idea and created something I wasn’t expecting and absolutely needed after a winter full of disappointing AAA behemoths. I wanted to get back to something a little more grounded, and whilst this game went from grounded to a fantastical adventure very quickly, I couldn’t have been more delighted with that. The more surreal the game became, the more invested I became. I just wanted to know where these stories could go next. And I wanted to know over and over again.
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine is a colossal reimagning of what a narrative driven game can be.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is available now on Steam. Download the game here.
Developer: Dim Bulb Games / Serenity Forge
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.