PC, Mac, Linux
Oftentimes when times are glum, a point-and-click adventure is a great place to turn. Their reliable format, the knowledge that – even if it requires a walkthrough – there’s always progress to be made, and the cosy, old-school vibes, make them a lovely gaming happy place. What’s fascinating about The Plague Doctor Of Wippra is how it still achieves so much of this, despite being such a morbid, downbeat game.
Set in Germany during the Black Death, this is the tale of a 14th Century doctor trying to establish himself in a new village, against an unhealthy wall of religious zealotry. Where plague is diagnosed, houses are being ordered boarded up, with the residents still inside, while everyone has their own theories as to the cause of this blight – mostly based on displeasing God in some manner.
It’s pretty clear from the outset that this is a hopeless game. While fictional, it’s not fantasy, and no Dr Oswald Keller is recorded by history as having made a significant breakthrough in the fight against the plague. What we have here isn’t a heroic tale, but rather a vignette about one decent man trying to help others in impossible circumstances.
Well, I say it isn’t fantasy, but on one level it rather is. As hopeless as the overall theme might be, Dr Keller himself is pure fiction. He is that trope of writing a central character with 21st Century values somehow misplaced into the past. He isn’t swayed by religious fear, nor stuck in his Medieval medical ways. He is compassionate to a fault, suspicious of contemporary medical woo like bloodletting, and possesses uncanny insight into the plague based entirely on extremely lucky guessing.
But, you know, that also makes him very likeable. This is a short game, and as such you don’t spend an enormous amount of time getting to know characters. Nor does it have a large spread of locations, and the elaborate inventory puzzles they engender. Instead, this is a far more intimate morsel, a quick study of a strange period of time. In many ways, this works very well, and creates an enjoyable game. In others, it means when it tries to touch on some very big subjects (most especially anti-Semitism) it does come off as somewhat crass. Given the scale, it might have been better to let such issues lightly permeate, rather than be so directly (and ideologically) confronted.
The art, writing and programming is all by one person, which always blows my mind, and I really enjoyed the pixel style. I love that The Plague Doctor Of Wippra exists. It’s such a specific moment in time to capture, the brevity of an adventure-short being the perfect medium. I also love that I suspect so much of its creation was to passive-aggressively point out that most plague doctors were just regular men struggling in impossible times, rather than some terrifying bird-faced figures of horror.