If you're a regular here at Sinical Network, you might remember the Ukrainian indie studio Anate Studio. A simple project by a sole developer who mostly focuses on the emotional side for his games.
I had the pleasure to interview Anatolii Koval back in 2018 here at Sinical Network right before the release of Repentant, an intense and dramatic adventure that served as a sequel to another great title which I also reviewed here at the website, titled Little Kite. An urban drama highly focused on the struggles of domestic violence.
Although the developer's early works dive into horror, as seen in my review of Octave - a psychological nightmare in the realms of what you'd expect in a Silent Hill game, his production changed entirely to a more contemporary setting.
After playing all the previous games throughout the years I became a bit of a hardcore fan, as each new game improves upon everything, more particularly, the emotional impact which is exactly what I look for in adventure games. Realizing the latest game, The Safe Place was a prequel to Repentant, got me extremely hyped.
Even if you never played any of the previous titles, The Safe Place allows itself to be a great entry point, both for its story and gameplay alike. If you're familiar, connecting the dots regarding the presence of Christina (one of Repentant's main characters) should come naturally. Won't change anything if you don't know her but I must emphasize how previous games are all of great quality and a complete must-have for adventure fans.
Right amidst the economic crisis in a country still recovering from the post-soviet era, Alexander tries his best to provide for his family even though his salary is already delayed for a few months. A side gig comes up and although it goes against all his principles, family comes first.
When the side gig goes wrong Alexander finds himself in a fight, involuntary killing his aggressor. It gets worse, as a twelve-year-old girl, Christina, witnesses it all. She may have promised to remain silent, but at what cost? Ruined and devastated, Alexander falls into a void that slowly consumes his life away, rotting all the hopes and dreams he once had.
It's notorious how the studio has always delivered an emotional whirlpool into every single game, but The Safe Place breaks all barriers and pushes it to a whole new level. There's so much intensity with themes such as bullying, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, prostitution, despair and redemption. It's a journey with moral questions and lurking dangers at every turn.
The narrative has a strong impact, its pace is absolutely perfect, and events are masterfully crafted with care and dedication. It's a strong urban drama, one that left me impressed by the level of quality; Much of its credit is thanks to the fully voiced cast that did their best to transpire emotions through their words.
As Point & Click games go, The Safe Place is a pure traditional one. You control Alexander in different scenarios, interacting with a variety of objects and learning more about the world and his personal life. Included are some very light puzzles and the typical object combining mechanics you often encounter in adventure games.
Without a doubt, it's the most elaborate game every produced by Anate Studio in terms of complexity, lengthiness, and even duration. Definitely the most ambitious as well. Thankfully, the puzzle and object interaction remain with the same medium-level difficulty delivering an almost smooth casual experience.
Many of the interactions presented make sense but may require some exploration or out of the box thinking. Mechanically, not much has changed in the prime formula except the addition of a small number of choices within the narrative. Nothing that perpetually changes its course but depending on a few choices there will be different dialogues. A simple but welcoming addition.
Visually, the game is also one of the best-looking games when compared to all the other productions. Beautiful hand drawn locations, embedded with a deep melancholy and even depressive theme, greatly emphasizing the poverty and difficulties some characters face. You can truly tell the elegant way of its intense design. Deep, unforgiven and ravishingly brutal.
Each scenario is really well accomplished, with attention to details and care for world building. The developer still uses the same method for cutscenes, where slides of hand-made canvas-like painting fit progressively as the scene occurs. This time, however, it's far more refined and elegant. Some shots really impressed me by how well directed and elaborated they became.
To understand its design refinement, one must understand how they were inspired by similar locations in real life. I could go further into detail on how I truly love the aesthetics and, more importantly, what they mean but you can watch it yourself in a Dev Blog by the developer himself:
With a play time well above 5 hours, but perhaps under 10 for most users, The Safe Place is a touching Indie masterpiece. A tale of regret, desperation, and uncontrollable fates. Broken pieces that slowly come together as Anatolii Koval builds a fantastic series with interesting characters and a phenomenal background between them.
How this game isn't booming among Adventure fans, I have no clue. But it absolutely deserves much more recognition. A solid Point & Click touching themes we rarely experience. An outstanding 10/10 for an adventure that kept me absolutely hooked for 7 hours straight.
An absolute essential and must-have!