The relationship between father and son, with all its ambiguities and conflicts, (not to mention other things it frequently involves) had always been one of the key interests of literature, cinema and art in general. The game Father and Son bravely tackles this difficult subject which previously exclusively belonged to the domain of the so-called “high culture”, and even manages to provide us with a fresh perspective. This emotional and subtly nuanced essay on the nature of the father-son relationship was created by a developer called TuoMuseo and produced by famous National Archeological Museum of Naples. Granted, while in the gaming world we’re sometimes rightly suspicious of various bogus experiments and pretentious artsy-fartsy nonsense, in this particular case you certainly won’t have a reason to be put off by the fact that a museum stands behind the whole project.
Although developers and the institution that funded this superb little game aren’t entirely innocent of this “crime”, this is not, as you would expect, some interactive museum tour created with the sneaky mission of educating you against your will, neither is it its goal to showcase the collection of the National Archeological Museum of Naples. Of course, if you play the game and bother reading short insightful texts that are equivalent of object labels in museums, you’ll bound to learn a few useful facts along the way. However, the true purpose of Father and Son is exactly what it sounds like – to explore the subtle complexities of the relationship between two human beings who should’ve formed a strong emotional bond, but that never happened for some reason.
Double Portrait of Father and Son
The father and son relationship that’s under the microscope here is that of Federico and Michael. It seems that Federico wasn’t really what you would call an ideal father, since he was always absent from home, basically dedicating his whole life to a career and neglecting his wife and son. As a curator of the National Archeological Museum of Naples, he was mainly responsible for three exhibitions – one dedicated to everyday life in Ancient Egypt, one to the final hours of Pompeii (before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius swallowed the city and its inhabitants) and one to 18th century Naples and the Bourbon period.
His dying wish (expressed in a letter sent to his son) was that his estranged son Michael, a young promising artist, travel to Naples and visit the museum where he worked his whole life and in that way maybe get to know his late father a bit better. It seems that Federico firmly believed that those exhibitions, as well as the Naples itself, hide a few revelations that could prove useful to Michael, a bitter and somewhat cynical young man who at present vacillates between the feelings of love, hate, and indifference towards his father and life in general. It is up to you and your guidance to determine which will prevail.
Gameplay, Artwork and Few Glimpses into the Past
The gameplay is remarkably simple, with smooth, almost movielike quality of the narration. As you walk around, all objects or characters available for the interaction will be marked with an appropriate icon. You’ll quickly realize that the number of locations and things you can do in the game is actually quite limited. However, the atmosphere is great and graphics are done with a true artistic flair, in bold, strong, expressive brushstrokes, without unnecessary details, and even things such as facial features of characters are left out. Indeed, the bustling city of Naples and the museum with its exhibitions look exquisite in its vibrant colors. Another thing that greatly contributes to the overall quality of the game and its mood of sadness and introspection is a deeply emotional musical score, a work of Polish composer Arkadiusz Reikowski.
It is difficult to talk about Father and Son in conventional terms such as levels or missions because the whole point was to create one fluid, cinematic experience. However, the game does follow a certain structure. The story unfolds in the space of just three days. Each day Michael will walk from his father’s apartment (the second day he’ll get a little scooter which will help you to shorten the tediousness of the walk) all the way to museum, and talk with a few characters who’ll usually try to question the relationship between him and his father. Then he’ll enter the museum and visit one of three exhibitions that his father curated.
These moments at the exhibitions can be considered as high points of the whole game because they’ll actually let you play as persons from three exciting periods of human history which are on the display in the museum. In other words, you’ll play as a woman from ancient Egypt in search of artistic inspiration, a married couple with a child who desperately try to escape Pompeii just before the cataclysmic eruption and a sculptor who was ordered to remove the legs of the famous Farnese Hercules statue. While watching those exhibitions, Michael will be able to relive a few special moments from the lives of nameless people and, indirectly, get to know his father a bit better. As he glimpses into the private world of people who had passed away a long time ago and observe acts of selfless sacrifices, gentleness, and love, Michael will realize what he was lacking in the relationship with his father. When you finish with each exhibition and absorb all the valuable insights they have to offer you, another day will begin.
Father and Son is a short, but an expertly designed game that leads the player towards inevitable emotional catharsis. It is a rare thing indeed that we get to play a game that’s more focused on the psychological development of the protagonist than on plot. During the three days spent in beautiful Naples, you’ll witness how Michael’s view of his father and general outlook on life slowly but surely change for…Better? Worse? Well, that’s entirely up to you and your decisions. The point of this entire experience? To remind us that human beings from antiquity to modern times are basically the same – they all crave love, warmth and emotional response. Although you might find its gameplay and difficulty a bit lacking, Father and Son is a game that more than compensates for these flaws with beautiful graphics, moving soundtrack and emotional story that surely won’t leave you indifferent.