The Plague Doctor of Wippra Review
Short, sharp and bleak, The Plague Doctor of Wippra crawls onto PC courtesy of veteran indie publisher Application Systems Heidelberg and developer Electrocosmos. In a post-pandemic world, a game where you have to convince people about the cause of a plague feels depressingly accurate. Yet this adventure is smart enough to make comparisons between Covid and the Black Death without being overt; the undercurrent bubbles along nicely, which makes up for the more rudimentary aspects of its point-and-click gameplay.
The titular doctor is Oswald Keller who arrives in the German town of Wippra to offer his services to a disease-ridden town. To begin with, your trusty medical book can be used to diagnose a patient before you trot off to get all of the items you need to heal them. In this respect, the salves of the times are recreated here: trepanning a man with a head injury before sealing a silver coin in his head, making a balm from the herbs and flowers dotted in a nearby garden, or using leeches to relieve pain. Keller’s pragmatic approach makes for an interesting — and somewhat righteous — lead character who reminded me at times of Mark Rylance’s portrayal of Dr. Semmelweiss.
Of course, the Middle Ages setting also allows the story to touch on the political and religious issues at the time. Religious fanatics sell blessings from God to protect people from the plague, minorities are blamed for spreading the disease, and science is railed against. It’s almost as if we’ve learned nothing in half a millennium. The situations are cleverly woven into puzzles, too. For instance, the teachings of Martin Luther are used to combat religious rhetoric, while common sense (or friends in high places) can often be used to make people see more clearly.
The game is mostly linear and you are usually funnelled into the right course of action, sometimes with a specific list of the items you need to collect. This may be popular with gamers who are more interested in progressing the story but it means that seasoned point-and-clickers aren’t likely to be challenged. At least, not by the puzzles themselves. The environment is a whole other matter. Hotspots can be enabled (although the game recommends against it) and activated with the space bar. For me, this was invaluable. While the pixel art graphics are retro cute, they also make it hard to pick out items that are collectable or interactive. Previous window dressing in locations suddenly becomes key, meaning that you need to rescan an area to find things that you couldn’t click on before, in case they have come into play. A protracted puzzle involving a magpie was a frustrating example of this.
Furthermore, your inventory system rarely overflows, yet still manages to be bloody irritating to use — especially when you need to deselect items. You will need to combine items within it in classic style, or use them in the environment, and the game usually provides just enough information to point you in the right direction. But without hotspots you’d find yourself pixel hunting, and that simply wouldn’t be fun.
Thankfully, the story is intriguing and it’s backed up by some lovely orchestral music from Titus Drissen that’s mournful to a fault. The free sound effects on loop (a baby crying, a man moaning in pain, and so on) can grate at times but the puzzles are short enough and the locations so compact that you will rarely stay in one place for long. A high-stakes sequence towards the end feels genuinely thrilling too, while the decisions you make in the game can alter the ending — sometimes doing what you think is right might not be the correct decision in the long run if the mob is against you. Just as Semmelweiss and Fauci were not believed, your playthrough will determine if Keller takes his place among the pilloried, or if science will prevail. It may only be a couple of hours long, but The Plague Doctor of Wippra packs an uneven but poignant punch.
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