While I have tried to avoid direct spoilers for The Magnificent Trufflepigs in the words below, you may be able to draw your own conclusions from what's hinted at. It's that kind of game - but even if you think you know who its characters are, and what they represent, it's still very worth playing.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs is the debut game from Thunkd, a British studio established to make "human-shaped" and "evening-sized" games. And frankly, as a parent who is incredibly time poor, I am very here for such an MO. The studio was founded by Andrew Crawshaw, designer on The Chinese Room's supernatural ramble through the sublime of 2015, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. And much like said multi-award-winner, there's substantial bucolic beauty to behold in Trufflepigs, which sets its action in picturesque rolling fields, its subtle soundtrack accompanied by birdsong and the occasional whoosh of a hang glider overhead.
Watch the launch trailer for the Nintendo Switch release of The Magnificent Trufflepigs, below...
Action, though, might be the wrong word here. Trufflepigs, as an interactive experience, is light on player-directed agency and overall impact on a plot that is linear and only has a single, striking outcome. Crawshaw and the small team here are using the medium of video games to tell a very, I suppose, televisual story. It's one that'd work as an hour-long drama special, maybe even with the same cast - albeit one that isn't as close to the Detectorists parallels that pre-release coverage was quick to draw. Whereas Mackenzie Crook's superlative BBC Four slow-comedy show (some of the best British TV of the last decade, IMO) used metal detecting as a device to sew together disparate plot points covering several characters, Trufflepigs' sweeping of farm fields to find long-lost trinkets is a more individual, personal journey. This is a solo performance, where the player's actions are only ever moving in one direction.
Which isn't to say you can't wander the grounds of an up-for-sale farm with no freedom - across a series of days, the player is asked to visit new areas to scan the mud and grass for a lost earring, the partner to one found years before. Your discoveries, though, are somewhat predestined. A suspiciously modern ring will always be found on the right day. A discarded bag, on another. Tent pegs and machinery parts and bottle caps and badges, they're all scattered hither and thither - but Trufflepigs isn't about objects, so much as it is the conversations sparked by them, and the memories and anecdotes that can manifest from such exchanges.
So while this is a solo game, there are two presences in it, and two voices to fill out the back-and-forth plot. Beth (superbly played by Luci Fish) is a local of the village of Stanning, in her very late 20s, who once found a pretty expensive earring while out detectoring. Its discovery, years earlier, coincided with a positive period in her life. She felt good, respected, locally famous even. These days, not so much, and we're told that finding the matching earring is an attempt to get herself back on track. She's at a kind of personal crossroads, and thinks this will help her make the right choice.
Adam, played by Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill, is... Adam is Beth's friend, probably from her childhood. He's not much liked by her family or other friends, who warn her off making contact again. He's been shut out from Beth's life for a while, silenced for a long while, but returns at her request to aid her in the search for this second earring. The player assumes the role of Adam, who 'arrives' in a half-collapsed farm building and whose communication with Beth is only ever via walkie talkie or occasional lunchtime chit-chats in Beth's car. He's... pleasant, curious, helpful, caring, slightly sinister, patient, almost too in tune with Beth's thoughts and definitely working to an unspoken agenda. And he has no voice whatsoever when Beth calls on him from her car, in the very first scene of the game.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs asks little of you except: move around this beautiful place and point your metal detector at things; sometimes send photos of your discoveries (or snap the local landmarks) and swap some text messages; and very occasionally choose between a couple of conversational options that have no bearing (so far as I can tell, anyway) on the pre-credits conclusion to the story. It is the very definition of a walking simulator, because that is pretty much all you do. And it's lovely, it really is, to slip on headphones and immerse yourself into the beeps and blips, the scrunch of the trowel in the dirt, the twittering birds and the gentle sway of the grass. For between 90 minutes and two hours, you'll be transported to a part of Britain tucked away from motorways and mass transit hubs, coffee shop chains and reliable wi-fi. It's a pastoral paradise where the only pressure on you, on Adam, is to remember where you left your detector should you set it down and wander off while using the walkie-talkie.
Except, of course, this is no paradise for Beth, who we are led to believe is off detecting in another field, within earshot for sure but always out of view. She's always here, and yet, it's only Adam's voice we have control over - until we don't. And by the end of Trufflepigs, and the end of Beth's reunion with Adam, it's clear that Stanning of now isn't the Stanning of then, and there's no way to make it so. Tough decisions need to be made - not just those affecting Beth, but Adam's future too.
While some PC-release coverage of this game, back in June 2021, spoke of a romance unrealised between the pair, and criticised never physically showing the characters, my takeaway from Trufflepigs is very different - and, I think, mine is the takeaway its makers were aiming for. Which isn't to say those other 'takes' are wrong at all - I just didn't read the story in the same way that they did. I also didn't perceive the game as using mental health as an 'enemy', something to fight against, a negative flipside to a sunny disposition and affirmative outlook. As the credits rolled, I sat thinking about parallels with my own life, and the shifts in direction I've made along the way. Catalysts and breaking points, failures and pick-me-ups, career changes and start-overs. What you need to be happy, and what you really don't, and how that dictates your inner dialogue. For a game that's about moving very slowly over small patches of land, only pausing for sarnies and jaffa cakes, the parting message is one that has the potential to travel far and resonate with a lot of players, in the way that Firewatch did, that Gone Home did, and that Everybody's Gone to the Rapture did.
My recommendation is that you set aside an evening and play for yourself, and see what your interpretation is. Trufflepigs is less than £10 on Steam and the Switch eShop, so it'll only cost you a couple of missed pints this month. There's evidently some ambiguity to this one, despite its fixed climax, and I kind of feel for its makers that (what absolutely seems to be) the point of the game's story was missed in certain write-ups, which could influence purchase decisions. But to some players, players like me, this is going to be an experience that stays in the memory way beyond 2021. Digging into the past is always a risk, but in my opinion at least, Thunkd have unearthed an unassuming and underrated gem.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs is out now, published by AMC Games (yes, the American TV channel, home to Mad Men and Breaking Bad and all that), for PC and Nintendo Switch (version tested). Code provided by the publisher.
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