“[A] narrative-driven point-and-click adventure that explores the stories of four different characters in a masked ball taking place on a train in the late [nineteen-twenties].”
I cannot put it any other way: “If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers” is an absolute masterpiece. Not only does it combine beautiful pixel art with atmospheric sound design and background music, it is also so well written and thought out on many levels. It also contains puzzles that require nothing more than an attentive eye, but nothing less.
Everything begins and ends in a train that is on a journey through Central Asia in the nineteen-twenties. The journey is also a special kind of event, as in at least one of the compartments there is an extravagant masked ball. Champagne glasses clink, people toast each other and enjoy the exquisite music, but something is peculiar: No one seems to know anyone else. An elderly lady named Laylah recognizes that three of the other guests are irritated and takes care of them. They all cannot remember how they got their invitation to this festivity in the first place. Laylah motivates them to tell their story so that they might remember something. As players, we intervene in this retelling and steer the three characters through their past.
In this way, “If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers” illustrates to us a series of discriminations and injustices of the last century, the disgusting blossoms of which have carried over to the present day. Homophobia, classism as well as racism are present motives. But at the same time, the game tells a story in its two to three hours of play about the desperate deeds to which passion, grief and anger can drive us. This combination of personal strokes of fate and societal forces results in an unbelievably coherent overall picture, which I have rarely experienced in video games.
At the same time, it remains a mysterious game. Yes, of course, many of our attentive readers will quickly know why these people are on the train. But I guarantee that only a few of you will know in advance why those very guests were invited to this masquerade ball. There is indeed a difference between the two activities – and I gladly admit that I did not foresee this twist until the end. It is just as I told you at the beginning: This game is a masterpiece. [PLAY]