If On A Winter's Night, Four Travellers is a sumptuously grim little mystery
Starting a game like If On A Winter's Night, Four Travellers I can't help but feel as though I'm going to miss a few important references. The name, after all, is a reference to Italo Calvino's novel If On A Winter's Night, A Traveller - which I haven't read, but know to be, apparently, a kind of reflexive post-modernist novel, in second-person, about you trying to read a novel called If On A Winter's Night, A Traveller. A reference to a thing that self-references, which I have just discovered by Googling. I'm already struggling.
Anyway: do not worry about that. Four Travellers, a free, 1920s point-and-click mystery created by Laura Hunt and Thomas Möhring, is full of things that are probably references - recurring classical music, quoted novels, recited poetry - or maybe not! The point is it helps to be an ignoramus here. All the heady literary-ness of the Proust and Satie piling up and congealing into a kind of fog, the same kind that clouds the minds of its three-ish main characters. Just as it does - so I hear - in Calvino's Traveller: Did I get that right? Is this supposed to be here? Am I remembering this correctly?
This is Four Travellers, a game of confusion and epistemic doubt. You begin on a train - that is definitely a Calvino reference; I've just skimmed the first chapter - and none of the travellers seem to know how they got there, which leads to a plundering of memories and regrets and all the rest, Hunt's story progressing from romantic tragedy, to romantic despair to total, gothic depravity in its three or four hours.
There's some mostly gentle puzzling involved, mostly asking you to follow some mostly obvious instructions or clues. Occasionally the thread can get a little lost in the visual noise - a teenie tiny key gave me some serious trouble - although again I think that's just as much on me, at times. It's also worth it: Four Travellers is sumptuous. The travellers' memories play out across a handful of Möhring's immaculate, richly detailed pixel-art dioramas. Some favourites: the rain; a harp; the little white table and chairs in a stunning conservatory; and the light - I am obsessed with the light. If the odd key gets lost in little dots of a shadowy lobby then so be it.
This all comes back to the mood, anyway, which is what really persists with Four Travellers through its god-rays and red carpets and midnight blues. A handful of people, trapped in the flickering horror of their own memories, destined to root around for clues amongst all the doubt. Delicious! What a ghastly little gem. Calvino would be proud - probably.