Outsider Games, the developer behind Wailing Heights, promises players a world of oddities, as the town of the same name features unique encounters with hipster vampires, over-excited werewolves, and illicit Zombie dealers. Upon this promise, Wailing Heights delivers an experience that is consistent, fun, and odd (in a good way), if sometimes frustrating.
Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, interested gamers will want to know that the story revolves around a band manager, Frances Finkelstein, trying to reunite his now-deceased band, The Deadbeats, while also protecting his still-living body. To do so, players must utilize an in-game mechanic known as Possession, which finds Finkelstein taking over the bodies of a varied cast of characters, such as Soul Ghoulman, a Public Defender for the deceased in Wailing Heights.
Where Wailing Heights does best is in the design of the game and the aforementioned Possession mechanic. Boasting a “host of illustrious comic book talent,” Wailing Heights delivers a beautiful game with unique, comic-like 2D artwork. Not only do the in-game locations look taken straight from a comic book, but the dialogue choices appear in speech balloons, solidifying the cohesion of the artwork with the gameplay. It’s also worth mentioning that characters who can be possessed, as well as members of the Deadbeats, have a comic origin viewable in the game. Moreover, as the game’s primary cinematics appear in the comic form, this game could easily be described as an interactive comic book.
The possession mechanic is vital to the gameplay and story of Wailing Heights, as eventually, Finkelstein becomes a disembodied spirit. In order to possess a character, Finkelstein must discover their name, something they love, and something they hate. Once this is complete, a short song – again, this is a musical adventure – is played, allowing the player to possess the character. Each character has unique access to certain areas, such as a Law Library 0r a Vampire Cafe, which further serves the story.
Moreover, each character has an ability, with Soul Ghoulman being able to turn invisible and read thoughts, while a Werewolf character can assume a quadrupedal form and track down items via scent. However, the design of these abilities have one rather significant drawback: they are the only way to increase the movement speed of a character.
Unpossessed characters remain behind in the location where the newly possessed character was located, meaning that players will often cross the map to get the specific character they need. The base movement speed is rather slow, so players are better off continuously using the aforementioned abilities to cross the map, with a Zombie character’s sole ability (beyond the ability to understand other zombies) being an increase in speed.
This is especially frustrating when trying to solve a rather difficult puzzle, as the learning curve between act 1 and act 2 of the game is also rather significant. Whereas the puzzles presented in the first act are rather straightforward and plotted along the story, act 2 opens up and gives the player access to the entirety of the band, meaning at least 4 massive puzzles areactive at the same time. Moreover, these puzzles often crossover, sometimes making the puzzle-related items confusing.
For example, one of the band members in act 2 is a zombie musician which is unlocked by possessing another zombie musician, which requires items that are not clearly distinct from the other. This is sometimes worsened by a lack of in-game direction or hints, as Act 2 only tells the player to reunite the band.
Speaking of the in-game music, it plays a beautifully significant role in the story. Sometimes, music can be the key to a puzzle, while even the lyrics associated with Possession often maintain the tone of the story. Players who appreciate a solid synchronization between the tone of a game and the associated music would probably find the game’s score to be enchanting.
But while there is a serious storyline, the game keeps an upbeat vibe throughout. Fans of one-liners may enjoy a number of the in-game jokes, whereas others may find them awkward. More often than not the jokes do work, especially when a character compares a legal parchment to rotting zombie flesh or it’s revealed a character died from eating too much garlic bread.
Another major point of consideration is the stability of the game considering it is a console port of a PC game. During our time with the game, it never once crashed, although it did slightly freeze up when swapping from gameplay to cinematic comic panel time to time. Luckily, none of the issues were game-breaking and resolved in a few seconds.
Overall, Wailing Heights is a challenging adventure game packed full of intriguing puzzles. Despite having a few drawbacks in terms of gameplay, this musical adventure game manages to provide players with a stable, unique experience and thereby delivers upon its promise of a world of oddities.
Wailing Heights is available now for PC, PS4, and launches tomorrow, Aug 15, for Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.