[Hi, I’m Chris Plante, and you’re reading Postgame, a weekly newsletter collecting the best games, stories, and videos in the video game community into a fun, digestible package on Sunday mornings — along with a weekly free game recommendation. Learn more on the Postgame About page. Postgame is edited by Stephie Grob Plante. Want to support Postgame? Please share it with a friend! Or even better, visit my work-home at Polygon.com!]
When I first heard about Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, it felt like the elevator pitch had been crafted specifically for me. What midwest kid with a shelf full of history books wouldn’t want an adventure game inspired by American folklore and the wandering of Depression-Era USA? It would feature writing from some of my favorite critics and narrative designers. Plus, the voice of Sting! I had to play it.
Reader, I confess I skipped it.
I wasn’t alone. A slow, literary style along with some early skeptical reviews countered early enthusiasm. That the game debuted in March 2018, peak Fortnite-mania, didn’t help matters.
Now, in this window between console generations, ahead of the fall releases, I have a chance to finally give the game a fair crack. And so do you. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is available for free until the morning of Sept. 17 on the Epic Games Store.
Official creator synopsis
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a Narrative-Adventure game about traveling, sharing stories, and surviving manifest destiny. Players wander across a folkloric Depression-era United States at their own pace, meeting strangers with their own stories to tell.
Reviews and criticism
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine's vivid recreation of a blighted and turbulent nation has much to offer students of America today. In particular, its celebration of how stories - true or false - mutate and self-propagate is an eerie echo of the current US-led media climate, in which disproven conspiracy theories enjoy evergreen appeal on Twitter and Facebook algorithms transform patent falsifications into frontpage news.
Telling stories is an inextricable part of our lives, and that’s at the heart of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, the debut project from developer Dim Bulb Games and a group of writers well-known throughout the gaming industry. (Names include Waypoint’s Austin Walker, narrative designer Cara Ellison and critic Leigh Alexander.) It’s a game in which your travels across the American expanse are driven by what you encounter along the way, as much as they are by your need to recount those experiences for the fellow storytellers you meet.
The rub is that, while building up a bank of memories is a pleasure, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine gets bogged down by an impulse to make this game less of a gorgeous, interactive storybook and more of ... well, a game. Its greatest success is in capturing the wonderful, unpredictable nature of unraveling the moments that comprise our lives. Where the game fails isn’t in its individual stories, but in what becomes of them: pieces in obtuse, transactional conversations, where experiences are reduced to progression tools.
Having a variety of writers with different backgrounds is the magic behind WTWTLW’s deep and thoughtful storytelling. The game recognises America’s cultural and diverse history and this is reflected by its talented writers from a variety of backgrounds. The game isn’t concerned with complete historical realism, but the histories and truths in the character’s backgrounds that are based on true events.
What do you think?
Send links, tips, comments, questions, games, and water that tastes like wine to @plante.
That’s a wrap. See y’all next Sunday. Wear a mask!