This quiet metal-detecting game set in pastoral England starts with a phone call. Stanning Farm has just been sold. Before the new owners arrive, Beth can’t resist the chance to drop the busywork weighing her down and venture back onto the fields where she once discovered some precious jewellery.
First, she needs a hand, and old friend Adam picks up. The questions first posed in Beth’s call fuel the narrative engine of The Magnificent Trufflepigs. What’s so special about this jewellery? Where’s Beth’s fiancé? And what’s Beth looking for, really?
It’s a small engine, admittedly. The story of this self-described “evening-sized” game unfolds over walkie-talkies and text messages while we, playing Adam, patrol various fields. We have a slim toolset: a spade, a trowel, and a metal detector. Standing in our way is grass. Simply sweep the detector with its beeping and flashing indicators to locate finds, and the game prompts us to dig, rotate, and photograph.
What we’ll dig up won’t be turning up on dodgy eBay listings. Instead, they’re personal, each one prompting a gobbet of conversation. A locket will get Beth talking about her shirking partner. A tent peg will remind her of a childhood spent outdoors. Gradually, they’ll needle Beth’s understanding of herself.
These are the game’s two gears: detecting and listening. It doesn’t shift from this pattern. This is OK. Good, in fact, because the person who planted this debris is Andrew Crawshaw, lead designer of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, with which Trufflepigs shares an enchanting sense of place. The first time the game lets us walk around, it’s tempting to just stand there, listening to the music and the birds and the rustling grass.
When we do grasp the detector, there isn’t much in the way of deduction. Minimally interactive, it lacks skill-based elements that might make it more satisfying. More than anything, The Magnificent Trufflepigs is a sympathetic vignette of Beth’s disaffection with rural life.
We see her negotiating the inheritance of the family business, her mangled hopes with her fiancé, and her confused relationship with Adam. The development here is all Beth’s, whose story beats take place out of frame. Conspicuously missing from Trufflepigs’ story is Adam, through whose eyes and ears we experience the whole thing. We’re left feeling a bit redundant, with the meaning of their relationship largely unexcavated.
A narrative game where you walk around with a metal detector? I’m still attached to the premise, although in practice, it wears thin. Yet for these grumbles, The Magnificent Trufflepigs also welcomes us into a fold of slightly imperfect British landscape, happy for us to exist there for a while. That might be what we’ve come looking for.
The absence of animated character models doesn’t undercut the drama as much as it might. This game sometimes feels like a radio drama, soundly performed by Luci Fish as Beth and Arthur Darvill as Adam.
The short story inside this metal-detecting game needs fresh batteries.
Genre: First-person detector
Format: PC (tested) / Switch
Publisher: AMC Games
Release: Out now