The Great Perhaps Review
The Great Perhaps, from Indie developer Caligari Games, walks that fine line between dream and nightmare. You play as a Russian cosmonaut who returns from space to find that your Motherland (and all of the the Earth) has been laid waste by some sort of devastating cataclysm, leaving you as (presumably) the only person left alive to find out why. The fate of Russia and humanity, it seems, lies in your hands as you make your way through what is left of a fascinating but also grim post-apocalyptic world in search of answers.
In its gameplay, The Great Perhaps is a fairly standard point-and-click adventure with puzzle solving and mini-games often placed at narrative choke points. A key added wrinkle is a time-travel mechanic in the form of a lantern you find at the beginning — using it, you must frequently switch between past and present in order to solve puzzles and/or navigate barriers to your progress. For example, a door might be stuck shut in the present, forcing you to switch to the past in order to open it, or a threat like an oncoming train might be only avoidable by switching, then switching back. This is not the first game to use the time-travel mechanic this way — 2015’s The Silent Age comes to mind — but it is well done and makes for some welcome three-dimensional thinking.
Your enjoyment of The Great Perhaps’s mini games and non-time-travel puzzle solving, however, might depend on your overall tolerance for the point-and-click genre. As in many games of its ilk, the puzzles can be obtuse to the point of tedium, in that they often involve a dose of dumb luck to solve rather than logical thinking. You, Dear Reader, might have many logical and completely reasonable assumptions for how to use, say, a light bulb or a machine cog, but without spoiling things let’s just say that in The Great Perhaps they aren’t used how you think they are. Eventually, you’ll stumble on just how, with lots of trial and error — not my ideal scenario.
A Haunting Beauty
But I did admire the game’s bleak yet beautiful art style and overall aesthetic, which is the true star of the show. Recalling the best melancholy sci-fi classics of Soviet cinema such as Trakovsky’s Stellaris (1972), The Great Perhaps is a very Russian game — and I say that as a compliment. It gently, slowly assaults you with lonely and quiet isolation, as you jog through the rubble of the present searching for other people, for answers, for something. The futility of humanity’s technological “progress” is bitterly mocked in the broken and useless Soviet-era machinery that you pass by, and there is a sad note of commentary in the game’s time-shifting mechanic that puts a historical perspective on the society of the former USSR in the days before Glasnost, Perestroika and Putin. You can run faster by pressing SHIFT, but I stuck to a slow jog to take in the game’s atmosphere.
The lovely hand-drawn visuals are also key to that atmospheric feel. In the destroyed present, things are darker, colors are muted in what looks like a devastated and sterile natural environment. Switching to the past, however, brings forth a vibrant world full of detail and peopled by interesting characters. Likewise, the different musical accompaniments for each period add to the contrast as you move back and forth. The Great Perhaps constantly reminds you of everything, and everyone, that was lost in whatever this disaster was, and when the lantern inevitably times out and snaps you back to the present, it’s like rudely waking up from a pleasant dream into a living nightmare.
The Great Perhaps does not offer anything that we haven’t seen before in its gameplay, but there is an understated beauty in its presentation that I found haunting (literally … you’ll see). The trial-and-error nature of some of its puzzles may cause you to reach for a bottle of Vodka in frustration, but its world has a certain sad and subdued charm that will, in both past and present, motivate you to keep trudging along in order to save it.
** A PC game code was provided by the publisher **
- Beautiful art style
- Interesting time travel mechanic
- Some puzzles are tedious
- A bit bleak