What you’re about to read isn’t a review. To review ‘The Norwood Suite’ as if it were a game, like ‘Fallout’ or even ‘Gone Home’ is to miss the entire point of it.
The Norwood Suite is not a game. It isn’t. if you expect engaging gameplay, you’ll be disappointed. You walk around a Hotel, picking up different objects and presenting them to different characters, or using them to open doors or otherwise interact with its environment. It’s fundamentally a point-and-click adventure game, just with point-and-click replaced with walk-and-click.
If I was criticising it as a game, I’d start with the graphical fidelity- the human characters in particular look unsettlingly hideous, lying in the kind of uncanny valley one easily achieves by only halfway knowing how to 3D model. Some of the characters look like someone was messing around in the SIMS, others simply look unintentionally terrifying. Aside from the higher resolution, this game feels like a slightly amateurish attempt at a PS2 horror title.
I’d similarly criticise the gameplay, or lack thereof. ‘Walking simulator’ seems the wrong term. Rather, I’d call ‘The Norwood Suite’ an Exploration game. Over the course of a few hours, you search high and low across the world’s strangest hotel, complete with giant carved heads and plastic hands which reach from the wall at you.
No. Clearly, this is not a game. I am not reviewing a game here. Games are played, won, or lost.
This is art. Wobbly, confusing, brilliant art.
You have just arrived at the Hotel Norwood, which was once owned by a mysterious and enigmatic Pianist of the same name, before his disappearance in the 1980s. That’s it. That’s all you’re told. Directly, at least. There’s mention of an invasive corporation, lost artists, and a mysterious DJ who will only let you into his Basement rave if you assemble a good enough costume.
It’s fitting, then, that the brilliance in this piece lies in sound. There is no voice acting- instead, there’s a trippy, psychedelic form of music reminiscent of a Banjo-Kazooie voice in its place. Each room you visit has its own music, which is equally abstract and confusing. This game feels like an Acid trip. (At least, I think it does?). It does a phenomenal job of guiding your psyche through the assault of clues and just-vague-enough characters. The hotel may be otherworldly, even unsettling, but that doesn’t make it any less inviting.
And yet, through all the abstract visuals and intense symbolism, the piece holds a palpable sense of mystery, tension, and otherworldly intrigue. Every tiny scrap of information, every name, every referenced event, only made me want to explore more. I wasn’t playing this piece, I was clawing through it. The resulting Subreddit for this game will- and probably already has by the time you’re reading this- go absolutely rabid with theories and re-interpretations.
Whereas finding a hidden area on another piece may make you exhale and anticipate some currency, uncovering new secrets in the Hotel Norwood made me audibly squeal with anticipation.
Modern technology has provided our species with a remarkable set of new opportunities. The highly accessible nature of modern game engines and tools mean that the amateur can finally engage with the creation of electronic art. ‘The Norwood Suite’ is the 21st century equivalent of what a poet write might create when his parents and grandparents weren’t educated enough to read or write.
I’m not going to give a score to ‘The Norwood Suite’. It’s pointless, even more so that any normal review. This isn’t an experience that can be scored and numbered, nor is it one that can be categorized or recommended based on other titles. Unless you’ve played and enjoyed the 10-minute prequel, “Off-Peak,” that is.
But I will say this- if you’re the kind of person who enjoys art, or mystery, or even just a good theory craft- then you have to play ‘The Norwood Suite’. You won’t regret it.