Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View, a review of a thriller inspired by The Window on the Courtyard



Our review of Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View, a thriller set in 1950s England and inspired by The Window on the Courtyard.

After Ether One and The Occupation, the development studio White Paper Games offers us an interactive thriller, Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View. Inspired, conceptually, by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Window on the Courtyard, this game tells of the disappearance of little Charlotte May, eight years old, and the investigation carried out by former private detective Robert Conway to find her.

The story comes to life in the England of the ’50s, staging a thriller in which not everything is as it seems: despite being a story driven game, therefore without decisions that really affect the events, the search for truth presents some unpredictable and unexpected turns. All Robert’s neighbors could be guilty of kidnapping Charlotte May, it’s up to us to figure out who is responsible in an apartment complex where everyone has their skeletons in the closet.

In our review of Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View we discover all the qualities of this work.

Observation, research and analysis

Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View, Robert begins investigating Charlotte May's disappearance

There is one thing we haven’t told you about Robert Conway: he is paralyzed from the waist down, so he needs a wheelchair to get around. This physical limitation brings him close to James Stewart in the aforementioned Hitchcock film, with the difference that Conway doesn’t spend his time spying on his neighbors. This also means that a portion of the puzzles involve creating a path that can get him where he needs to go. In general, the level design is built so that Robert can move with some agility (as far as his wheelchair allows) inside the apartments of Dhalia View. To help him, there is some polygonal interpenetration, which allows Conway to rotate without getting stuck or jammed against any kind of obstacles represented by the furniture. You soon learn not to pay attention to it anymore, even going so far as to silently thank this small graphical defect: that said, it doesn’t mean that Robert half disappears inside a bedside table or a wall, you simply notice that sometimes the wheels of the wheelchair pass where they should bump into something instead.

With that being said, Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View is based on three phases. Observation, research and evidence analysis. Focusing on one neighbor at a time, we’ll observe him from the window of our apartment, capturing what looks suspicious to us through the camera. Once we have gathered enough information, we’ll have to find a way to access the houses we want to search, looking for clues inside them in a process made of exploration and puzzles to solve. In general they are well-made and range over different degrees of difficulty, avoiding being frustrating or prohibitive, although a couple of them turned out to be quite complex. Once we’ve found everything we need, we’ll return to our apartment to connect the clues together and get closer and closer to the culprit.

An unconventional protagonist

Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View, Robert's disability sometimes requires taking the long way around

Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View is not in itself a long game, however it manages for its duration to involve, leaving us from time to time with the desire to understand who may have kidnapped Charlotte May. Each investigation does not seem to lead to anything really relevant and, as the final approaches, you have the feeling that you never really have the full picture of events. We liked the decision to put us in the shoes of a protagonist who is anything but conventional, a man enslaved by his own physical limitations and therefore unable to perform an action taken for granted like running (or even walking). Also enhancing Robert’s value is the conflict with his daughter, a Scotland Yard agent who refuses his help not only because of legal issues, but also in order to prove that he is a valid cop. A relationship that sours when, of course, we begin to investigate on our own.

This leads to the staging of a character quite nuanced, that of Robert, and especially misaligned with the figure of the hero in spite of the noble intentions. A useful fact to understand that a protagonist is not necessarily a hero, the two words are not related to each other and even less should be used as synonyms. Robert’s haste, combined with his unspoken but obvious lack of confidence in Scotland Yard’s methods, leads him to make several missteps and ignore his daughter’s requests, running the risk of compromising an investigation that is in itself delicate. Without adding other details, we find him a well defined character, as are the other inhabitants of Dhalia View. Not only on a character level, but also aesthetically, thanks to an art style that is very pleasing to the eye.

Artistic Direction

Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View, the art direction is one of the most striking aspects

White Paper Games relies on hand-drawn textures and stylized environments, a choice that stems from a desire to create games whose artistic quality is of a high standard, but which can still be made by a small team. The scarcity of resources has therefore led the studio to develop a certain type of pipeline, so that production is always rapid without depriving their games of their own uniqueness. The artistic style of Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View is based on the stylized quality of Ether One and combines it with the more grounded realism of The Occupation, while also plucking from external sources to find elements that make it recognizable within the parameters set by the development studio. These include the aforementioned film The Window on the Courtyard, in terms of lighting, and the 2D animated film The Illusionist in terms of art direction. We then move to Toy Story 4 and David Fincher, but not only, in terms of framing and filming techniques. Summing up, we can not deny the new game of White Paper Games a strong attention to detail and technical staging.

We wouldn’t have minded seeing the same in-depth gameplay, because beyond well-crafted puzzles and believable dialogue, the game doesn’t offer much else. Despite being an investigation, the fact that it’s story-driven doesn’t give us a way to approach it in any other way than the way it’s presented: the order of the neighbors will be decided a priori, the occasional presence of multiple-choice dialogues has no relevance to the “interrogation” scenes, and the even rarer timed sequences, if they involve other characters, have no repercussions on us or on the investigation itself. Similarly, turning the neighbors’ apartments upside down has no consequences, and it matters little that everything is very different from how they left it, before we entered: they don’t notice it. This breaks the immersion a bit and leaves the feeling of a wasted opportunity to bring to life an investigation even more engaging than it turned out to be anyway.

Comment

Conway: Disappearance at Dhalia View is an enjoyable thriller that makes good use of its sources of inspiration but doesn’t dare enough. It sets up an interesting story, enriched by different characters, but being so driven without any kind of interaction, outside of the observation and puzzle-solving phases, leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth; especially when you realize that none of our actions really have even the slightest impact on the events. Nevertheless, if you like the genre and have enjoyed the other games of White Paper Games, you may find this enjoyable. If only for the art direction, particularly treated.

PRO

  • Familiar story, but interesting
  • Unconventional protagonist
  • Features excellent art direction
  • The puzzles have a wide range of difficulty
  • Story driven nature limits the possibilities of the game
  • Robert’s disability could have been exploited a bit more
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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