Created by Animation Arts (the same studio that developed one of my favorite point & click series “Secret Files”) comes Monolith – a classic point & click adventure that dares to break some of the old stereotypes of the genre. The game was announced more than a decade ago and a teaser trailer was released two years after (in 2014), but it was actively developed and reshaped only during the past three years. As such, Monolith combines old-style conventions with newer trends.
The story follows Tessa Carter, a research expedition leader whose ship crashed on an unknown planet, causing her to exit the cryosleep she was in. The game starts with Tessa waking up from a coma, with her only immediate memory being about the crash. She then tries to recollect the events that happened during the past days in an attempt to uncover what her team’s mission was, where the pilot disappeared to and why the ship’s computer didn’t perform a safe emergency landing. She slowly remembers seeing a rhythmic light in the distance and deciding to travel there together with her sidekick flying robot, in the hopes that she will then be able to transmit a distress signal to be picked up by a ship that might travel on one of the surrounding flight paths.
The mystery deepens when she reaches her destination only to find an abandoned intergalactic station, overtaken by wild vegetation. As Tessa tries to understand what happened there, strange and unexplained occurrences begin to take place, and the player starts questioning what is real or not. Monolith’s storyline is not only a sci-fi one but also one about self-discovery and personal growth. While the plot is overall well-written and deeply engaging with its multiple twists, I found the ending to be its weakest point. It does answer all the questions and wraps up all storylines, yet the final revelation is to some extent predictable and another extent disappointing.
Monolith’s puzzles are somewhere between easy and average to figure out, with only a couple of them being on the unintuitive or obtuse side. In comparison to older point & click games, the locations are rather contained in one-chapter areas and with one exception in which the locations are a maze to traverse, the rooms / scenes are positioned in a way that allows efficient pathing. I also really liked the fact that all the objects to be picked up were distinguishable from the background yet still perfectly blended into it; no pixel-hunting was required as they were in most cases clearly visible. On the other hand, I would have preferred if the items were automatically discarded from the inventory if they had no further use. As it is now, the inventory is often filled with non-relevant items that were previously gathered.
The aspect in which Monolith shines is the enigmatic atmosphere that it conveys and the strong cinematic component of the game. It’s probably one of the most cinematic point & click experiences I’ve had, filled with beautifully hand-drawn video cutscenes and ample dialogue snippets. Unlike in older point & click games, where a certain character has multiple dialogue options of which the majority are rather irrelevant to the story, Monolith transforms its dialogues into lengthy cutscenes that will always add something new to the plot or reveal some important piece of information for the story. The game is also fully voiced in both English and German and overall has some decent voice acting (with some small exceptions when the lines voiced by Tessa’s robot companion don’t flow smoothly). Judging by the German demo video, the English voice-overs are much better than the German ones.
For those that prefer a more casual approach at point & click games, three important features have been added to the game: a hotspot button that reveals all interactable items, an in-game walkthrough with only the relevant section visible for the room you’re in, and all minigames can be skipped. Using any of these will not prevent you from obtaining 100% completion, however, all 14 achievements are missable. As there is no chapter selection at the moment, you’ll need to rely heavily on an achievement guide if you want to obtain all of them. The game does have a save feature which is helpful if you want to replay certain bits. It comes in handy for those achievements that require you to solve a minigame in a certain amount of steps / in a specific way, or under a time limit (don’t worry, the latter is very easy).
While I deeply enjoy playing point & click games, I dislike certain aspects of the core gameplay of the older games, such as pixel-hunting, lots of back & forth between scenes and illogical puzzles. Monolith successfully managed to avoid pretty much all my pet peeves, while also providing enough verbal guidance for puzzles (during world interactions or when examining inventory items) as well as through the hotspots map and the in-game walkthrough. The game’s difficulty is just about right and it doesn’t interrupt the immersion given by the generous amount of movie-like cutscenes. The story was engaging and kept me on my toes until close to the end. Both Tessa as well as her companion robot are likable characters. Their dialogue exchanges are fun and filled with snappy remarks. All in all, Monolith was a very pleasant experience.