The first thirty minutes of The Silver Case repelled me. The user interface was overwhelming, the primary mechanic was scrolling through text, and navigation was clunky and cumbersome. All of which, of course, make sense to anyone who’s played Suda51’s early work. His Flower, Sun and Rain is a downright awful game for these same reasons, on top of many others. But I can’t very well review a game based on thirty minutes of playtime, so I pressed on. Several hours in, something happened.
I sort of fell in love with The Silver Case.
Don’t get me wrong—my initial complaints still hold true, and I suspect many people won’t be able to get past those. But I’d encourage you to give The Silver Case the good ol’ college try, because the further you dig into Grasshopper Manufacture’s strange tale of cyberpunk serial killers, the more admirable the whole experience becomes. I say “admirable” and not “better” because, honestly, it is a flawed game, and not something I’d recommend to everyone. Yet I admire it for its commitment to its own weird design quirks and its downright wacky narrative.
In The Silver Case players take the role of a police officer/hunter/cleaner/???, who has a name of your choosing. From the outset, you’re thrown into a weird, high-tech facility and forced to hack open doors to progress. But no sooner are you getting used to that than do you get attacked by a crazed individual and led through a time skip. Then several main characters are killed off, and you’re recruited into a special division that handles heinous crimes. Also, there’s a serial killer, and maybe ghosts, and a sort-of contagious crime disease.
You also get the nickname “Big Dick” early on. Nice?
See, even after going through The Silver Case, its narrative is still an impenetrable wall of Suda51’s signature blend of weirdness. The game is divided into two parts, each with separate chapters. It’s a weird narrative choice, and one that really only makes sense once you commit yourself to game’s wacky world. Characters speak in highly constructed, pseudo-philosophical riddles, which are punctuated by liberal usage of profanity and tough-guy dialogue. Narrative threads and key plot points only make a smidgen of sense, yet are taken for granted by all involved parties. Women crashing through mall ceilings, a serial killer with a harpoon gun, and crime being a contagious disease? Just another day at the office. Even the titular “Silver Case” is referenced through odd, backward ways where players sort of have to fill in the gaps themselves. For my money, though, none of this is bad. A game that makes you work for its narrative is infinitely more compelling than one that spoonfeeds you, in my book.
It’s in the gameplay that things get a little dicier. Navigation is handled through a grid-based system, not unlike an old Shin Megami Tensei title. Interaction with the world is done through a circular window, where you can choose to move, observe, look at your “implements,” etc. As The Silver Case progresses, you’ll be tasked with solving some oblique but manageable puzzles. Some of these involve a liberal amount of backtracking, with the third chapter being a particular instance of it becoming a tad irritating. Others involve hacking a lot of terminals, and even having completed the game, I’m entirely unsure if some unlock codes are even solvable, save for pressing a button that just does it for you. In fact, many of them don’t actually feel like puzzles, and are more along the lines of educated guesswork. It’s not that The Silver Case’s gameplay is bad, because it never really hinders you getting from point A to point B, nor is it broken. I just think it’s a bit ill-conceived, and more cumbersome than it needs to be, even by late 90’s design standards.
The gameplay in The Silver Case is saved, for the most part, by a dynamite aesthetic and atmosphere. Everything has a moody, vaporwave-esque presentation, from the colour palette to the heavily archived cutscenes to the synth-heavy music. On top of that, your HUD will always have random words flashing in the background, and your line of sight is always shifting. Every bit of action, in-game, is depicted through different windows, which change size and orientation constantly. It’s a disorienting, original design choice that serves the function of keeping players on their toes, and it really hooked me.
The Silver Case really isn’t a game for everyone. Its design is dated, its narrative trippy, its world bizarre and often heinous. Yet for dedicated Suda51 fans, or people who want games that challenge them, it comes with my highest recommendation. Give the weird design choices some time to sink in, and eventually, you’ll get pulled into the engrossing, often terrifying serial killer yarn until the very end.