I doubt I can do any better at cultivating the right expectations for this game than its own website, so here it is: “Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a bleak American folk tale about traveling, sharing stories, and surviving manifest destiny.”

Hot damn that’s good. It perfectly paints the tone and attitude of the tales (yes, plural) contained within. More than that, it’s oddly haunting. Bleak, survival, manifest destiny. How often is it that you think about any of those words, let alone all at once? There’s grand mystery just in that one sentence, and the game is filled with many more just like it.

It’s an appropriately strange setup, too. For the most part, you are an oversized skeleton touting a hobo bindle as you casually ambulate across an abstract map of the American South. You’ll come across odd little encounters like a figure throwing a parcel onto a passing train. As the sun begins to set, you’ll settle down into a campfire with colorful strangers, the two of you exchanging the only currency you have: stories.

The entire experience is weirdly chilling. It feels as though the ghosts that made the folklore you’re sharing are talking to you, fully aware of their past. Whenever you sit down to speak on your travels, you’ll attempt to regale your new friend with a story that fits their desires. Represented by categorical tarot cards, you might dive into Joy if they ask for something uplifting or Justice if they ask for something exciting.

It has to be taken in as whole to be understood. The choices you make that divert the stories as a soothing yet unnerving bluegrass soundtrack fills in the Americana make it unexpectedly personal. And with each tale written by a diverse stable of guest writers, each with their own idea of what it means to survive the American Dream, you never quite know how you’ll be surprised, let alone if you will be surprised at all.

Putting into words this demo is predictably tough. This is a game that explores the time between destinations while looking back on the journey once you get there. And more than that, it might not even be your miles that you are holding onto and recounting. But from what I can tell, it comes together in a swirling, grotesque, engrossing series of steps and stories, and I can’t wait to see what’s at the end.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is expected to release this year for PC and macOS.

Tim Poon

Computer scientist turned journalist. Send tips to tim@workingmirror.com.