The Plague Doctor of Wippra Review (PC) – Point & Sick
There’s a chance that if you come to play The Plague Doctor of Wippra [Steam Link] in a few years time, it won’t feel as special as it does now. Some artistic creations are a product of their time and can only really be properly appreciated in the wake of a cultural event. I imagine this is one such game. This, right now, is exactly the right time to play this this title.
You see, on the surface, The Plague Doctor of Wippra is a short, formulaic point and adventure set during the Middle Ages. You play as a doctor who recently arrived in the German town of Wippra. The bubonic plague has ravaged the populace and you’re investigating why, trying to help the sick while also dealing with issues typical of the era.
Just below the pixel art surface is a plethora of whip smart observations about how the world reacted to the COVID Pandemic that we’re (hopefully) moving away from. Developer Alexander Leps has cleverly linked many of the feelings, divisiveness and events of 2020 to present day in the world of Wippra, only with accurate and timely references. It’s smart commentary that embodies the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.
Get Down With The Sickness
In The Plague Doctor of Wippra, you play as doctor Oswald Keller. Like much of Europe during the Middle Ages at some point, the town of Wippra is struggling with ‘The Black Death’. You’ve recently arrived in the area after the previous physician here succumbed to the sickness. Working with the Sisters at the local church, you’re tasked with treating the unwell villagers as best you can.
This game is a traditional, inventory driven point and click adventure. You’ll be presented with a problem – it’s too dark to examine the patient, for example – and it’s up to you to find the solution. You can examine and pick up items from the environment and then combine or use them from your inventory in order to do so. The Plague Doctor of Wippra is in no way mechanically innovative, instead following the familiar genre staples.
More so than a lot of modern point and click adventures however, The Plague Doctor of Wippra prevents you from just picking up anything and everything before you really need it. You can’t just go kleptomaniac and pick up anything that isn’t nailed down. Instead, the game does an admirable job of funnelling you to the things you need, when you need them and not before.
Click & Pox
That’s underpinned by a well crafted lattice of objectives that make great use of the compact nature of The Plague Doctor of Wippra. You’ll meet patients that need particular treatments, like balms you’ll have to craft yourself from raw ingredients you’ll have to find dotted around. You won’t have to roam far and this game is rarely complicated but it will have you investigating every point of interest.
This game also brings with it a strong sense of personality. Sometimes you, the player, will have an idea of how to overcome an obstacle, but Oswald Keller will refuse to do something, in case it’s detrimental to others. It can get dry and humourless at times but rather than just acting as a proxy for the player’s decisions, Oswald has character and righteousness of his own.
The strength of personality in this game is most aptly demonstrated in the principles and story of The Plague Doctor of Wippra. Right at the start of the game, you’re given a moral quandy with a decision to make; do you condemn a family by reporting them to the city guard as you’re instructed to, or do you keep it hush hush for now and try to help them? This, along with a few other junctions in the game (some choices, some puzzles with multiple solutions), bring a strong sense of moral right to proceedings.
Your actions during these moments lead to a few different endings in the game. Try to do the right thing for people and this can come back to bite you. It’s never immediate, but you’ll always feel the repercussions of your actions later. As you might expect in a game centred around the black death, there are few positive endings, at least that I’ve uncovered. It is however possible, if you make right choices, to change history. Make some savvy choices and you’ll be able to discover what’s causing the plague and maybe stop it from spreading further.
Making Wippra Great Again
Which brings me to my personal favourite part of The Plague Doctor of Wippra. If you want to play this as a skin-deep point and click adventure about surviving the plague, have at it. You can play it that way. But this game is a really smart reflection on how the world dealt with the COVID epidemic too, if you’re willing to read between the lines.
Mobs lashing out at races/ethnicities because they blame them for the sickness plaguing their lands. Snake oil salesmen flogging ineffective protections against the illness to profit from people’s fear. A distrust of health care specialists and the treatments they recommend. The hording of resources. The forced isolation of those infected. While this game might be set in the Middle Ages, many of the core events you’ll witness or have to circumvent in the game will feel all too familiar. While it’s never explicit with it, the obvious symmetry between certain characters from reality and fictional ones in The Plague Doctor of Wippra is plain to see. I won’t spoil it all here but at times, you might as well call Oswald ‘Anthony Fauci, plague doctor’ instead.
A Pixelated Pox Upon You
I must complement how intuitive the art work of The Plague Doctor of Wippra makes the game too. There’s an option to highlight hotspots of interactivity but honestly, it’s totally unnecessary. The visual style, complete with chunky pixels, as well as how the scenes are structured to bring your eyes to important spots, makes this an easy game to play.
The sound effects in The Plague Doctor of Wippra, while sparingly used, are excellent too. The Foley in many scenes is really well done. There’s proximity to some of the background sound effects too, with different patients making louder groans as you move around a makeshift ward, for example. This isn’t something you find often in indie point and click adventures, so it immediately impressed.
While the music in this game is very good, featuring a beautiful string and piano assortment, I do wish there was more of it. There are a number of scenes in the game that are too quiet, some of which are almost entirely silent. A more continual backing track might have carried the tone of the game more consistently, where certain areas feel almost eerie now.
The Plague Doctor of Wippra began life as a game jam entry undertaken during a pandemic lockdown. The end product, while a short but competent and involved point and click adventure in its own right, feels like a critical evaluation of the human condition during these times of health crisis. Whether it be the ethnic scapegoating against the Chinese/Jewish or people accepting untested poplar theory over the opinion of trained professionals, The Plague Doctor of Wippra aptly demonstrates how, despite the passage and progress of more than 600 years, we’re still a fragile race with the same old problems.
In a few years time, this game might not feel as poignant. The memories of how truly odd this passage of history has been to experience will (hopefully) fade. The points this game is trying to make will land differently. Right now though, The Plague Doctor of Wippra is a thought provoking way to spend an evening and an experience that might linger in your mind.
While it’s a short, compact and competent point and click adventure at face value, The Plague Doctor of Wippra works best between the lines. A thinly veiled examination of the human condition during a health crisis, the game explores how little has really changed since the bubonic plague and the Middle Ages. If you like your adventures games to be deep rather than funny, this one is for you.
The Plague Doctor of Wippra is launching on October 5th, 2022 on PC via Steam.
Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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