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I want to like Where the Water Tastes Like Wine more than I actually do. On one hand, I am really fond of this tiny sub-genre of Americana themed fairy stories, as seen in the likes of Kentucky Route Zero, but on the other hand the game doesn't live up to a lot of its ambitions. In Wine you play as a hobo skeleton who, after losing their soul to a talking wolf in a game of cards, is obligated to walk the American wilderness, trading stories. And walk you do.
Much of the game is spent lumbering across a sepia, patchwork landscape, looking for points of interest (read: hovering icons over buildings and campfires). State lines and rivers snake across the screen in a soothing motion, guiding you and giving you a true sense of scale to your journey. It looks great but it runs like ass. My laptop does tend to struggle with new games, but these tend to be AAA titles with state of the art graphics.Wine, despite being an indie title, somehow suffers far worse frame rate drops than any of these even when on the optimal settings. I have no idea where all the processing power is going, but the simple act of guiding a little skeleton man across a map seems way more taxing to my machine than it should ever be. It scrapes the polish off of an otherwise attractive game.
Besides all the walking, hitchhiking and whistling you do, the game's secondary mechanic is around redistributing stories. You meet strangers and they will ask you to regale them. Often they specify the kind of story they want - "I want to hear something happy!" - and you then pick a story to tell. These stories come in the form of vignettes involving curious things you've seen on the road. Unfortunately this isn't fun. You collect hundreds of stories, and they are often only summarised in the game interface in the vaguest of terms, such as "A man who does not seem to care about death", so you often don't have a clue whether that could be a happy story or not. You need to tell the right sort, otherwise they won't tell you their own story and you'll have to find them again later. Due to the above mentioned ambiguity, you will fail often and will have to meet them many times until they finally share. It should bear mentioning that at no point during all this do you ever feel like a story teller, despite that being the entire point.
Wine is a game with novel ideas that aren't executed terribly well. I love the game's concept that our oral history is one of constantly evolving stories, rumours and half-truths. I enjoy the Depression era aesthetic and folk/blues soundtrack. But the game is sluggish, the mechanics are un-involved, and I can never play it for more than half an hour at a time before I go looking for something more interesting to play. As a casual experience to dip into, I guess I can recommend Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, but not as a thing you can really commit to.
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