One-man projects are always remarkable. The fact that one person takes on the task of building an entire adventure from scratch (script, graphics, interface, etc.) is a real feat - those of you who have done programming, you know what I mean. A frequent consequence of such a project is long development time and, usually, short duration in gameplay, and features like voice-acting can be missing unless the developer is really talented and can almost take care of it themselves (see Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!).
The Sundew embraces all of the above characteristics, being an one-woman project and specifically from the hands of Agnes Vuillaume. It is evident that the developer has put a lot of work into the development of the game's world, yet the end result fails to shake the player as the first few hours of the story promise.
A story that begins in the futuristic Shibukawa, a classic, huge, dirty and dangerous metropolis in Japan, whose dreary atmosphere is in line with most of the cyberpunk games we've played to date. The game's protagonist is Anna Isobe, a cyborg policewoman who is experiencing in her own skin (and on her microchips) the disdain of society, as machines and droids are now taking over almost all the jobs that humans previously did. Even police business.
After a "wild" night out with her one-night stand (or maybe not) in her apartment, Anna wakes up at dawn, intent on spending her day off as quietly as possible. Things suddenly start to take a strange turn when her very irritated chief urgently calls her to attend her office. She doesn't know the exact reason why she sounds angry (Anna is betting on a personal reason), however, when your chief calls you, you can't say no, even when it's on a rest day.
Anna arrives there and is asked to immediately take on a critical and highly confidential mission, which includes the heinous act of murder. Only the mission is not what you would call "clean" and soon the heroine is embroiled in a conspiracy that only she can deconstruct.
Undoubtedly, the game's storyline holds a lot of promise, especially with the enigmatic characters we meet during the game. The driving force behind the entire story is Anna Isobe herself, on who the entire game is based. She is a well-crafted character, with a great sense of humour, who at the same time does not hesitate to use violence when circumstances call for it. After all, what are implants for? The fact that the game manages to make us like the main character is a great achievement, and keeps the player interested as long as the mystery of the conspiracy is maintained and complicated.
Unfortunately, when the mystery unravels, about three quarters of the way through the game, the ending is rather disappointing. In a way, it gives the feeling that somewhere it is rushing to put an end to all of this, while the loose-ends do not wrap up, with no solid explanation given. Watching the end credits, one feels that this is just a very small part of a larger idea, which for various reasons, never managed to materialize to the extent it deserves. Personally, when I finished it, I thought "Oh, that's it?", and the fact that there are three different endings, depending on the decision you make at the end of the game, doesn't create the tension that its creator might have wanted.
Adding to this disappointment are the game's puzzles, which, with a few bright exceptions, are mostly meaningless. Too much time is spent on "find something to eat" or "fix the terminal to call a taxi" type tasks, when it could have been more concerned with problems related to the plot or puzzles that take advantage of Anna's enhanced abilities. In particular, the entire opening section at the police station unnecessarily "drags" too much, with a lot of back-and-forth and puzzles that require a specific sequence of steps to be taken. And the puzzle with the empty darts is so poorly done that it's capable of keeping you stuck for hours, and from what I've read online, I'm not the only one who's had it.
Of course, there is a to-do list, quite comprehensive and puts things in order, however it would be wise to give more appropriate hints when we fail e.g. to combine some objects with each other or with those of the environment. The situation improves a little later, especially at the point where the action opens up and we have more options in solving the puzzles. Puzzles are thankfully far from... moon logic, and contain mostly inventory-based solutions, sometimes more than one, as long as we are careful with the objects we can interact with - there is a hotspot indicator, but it works a bit unusually. Indeed, the quality of the writing seems to be upped here, with the dialogue seeming quite believable, if at times unnecessarily cryptic. It's a pity that the last part of the adventure doesn't continue in the same vein, with the abrupt finale creating the aforementioned sad impressions.
The addition of finding the hidden space invaders icons and the optional... drawing with markers is considered cute, but practically they don't help us anywhere except for earning the coveted achievement. The positive side is definitely the pixel-art approach of the graphics. Far from the logic of AGS games, the artistic aspect of The Sundew, with its dark colour palette and a few neon lights, doesn't bring to mind any other adventure, but at the same time it could easily have been released in 1989 and made a splash. The game's melancholic soundtrack contributes to the successful cyberpunk atmosphere, accompanying the action subtly and perfectly.
In short, The Sundew is what we call "wasted potential". Without being in any way bad, it promises much more than it ultimately delivers and its good ideas get lost in the general mediocrity that pervades it. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be a bad idea to release a director's cut type version later on, which would shed more light on the darker aspects of the universe Agnes has created. Maybe it really needs it.