Seething Hatred – Videogame Romances

Over the past decade I’ve lost count of the number of RPGs I’ve played, both from western and Japanese developers. I’ve saved countless worlds and faced down a myriad of gods, and though my love for the genre has not changed, there is one aspect of these titles I’ve come to loathe: romance. Continue reading Seething Hatred – Videogame Romances

Unrewarding Experience – Things I disliked about Pillars of Eternity

Have you ever had games that you played up to a point, left behind for other titles and never really returned to? Over the past few weeks and aware that I’ve done that with several great and enjoyable games, I’ve gone back and played them to completion, or at least to a point where I can say it’s enough and don’t want to touch them ever again.

The latest of those titles I’ve cleared off my backlog is Pillars of Eternity, an RPG with clear roots in D&D but one that doesn’t directly translate the tabletop RPG systems but has its own ruleset. Continue reading Unrewarding Experience – Things I disliked about Pillars of Eternity

Review: Supreme League of Patriots

The Supreme League of Patriots might sound like the name of an odd superhero comic book. In truth it’s a point & click adventure game, developed by indie developer No Bull Intentions, and set in a fictional version of New York city filled with real life superheroes. Continue reading Review: Supreme League of Patriots

Interview: Agustín Cordes – H.P. Lovecraft: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Earlier this year, Senscape, the developers behind the upcoming Asylum and founded by the mind behind Scratches, Agustín Cordes, launched a Kickstarter Campaign for the Lovecraftian Adventure Horror game, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

A few months ago, I contacted Agustín for a small interview about the game. Here are his replies. Enjoy!

First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

It’s my pleasure, thanks for having me!

In your announcement of the game, you mentioned this would be the first official H.P. Lovecraft game. Could you tell us more about that?

Yes, this is the first game that would use both the name H. P. Lovecraft and the title of one of his stories. Up until now we have seen lose adaptations or spin-offs, but never a straight translation of his work to a videogame. For example, Shadow of the Comet and Dark Corners of the Earth are very loosely based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. What we did is negotiate a license with the Lovecraft Estate established in Providence, the same organization that has been maintaining original manuscripts, letters and photographs from Lovecraft for decades. This is how dedicated we are to bringing a exceptionally faithful adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward to video games.

Can you tell us what made you choose this The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as the Lovecraft work to adapt?

While it wasn’t our first choice, it was a solid second option. It’s a wonderful story to be turned into an adventure game, full of fascinating aspects of investigation, exploration, and intrigue. And of course, lots of horror. It was almost natural the way in which the story became a game.

Charles Dexter Ward & Joseph Curwen

How much of the original novel are you adapting and how much is original content?

We’re retaining as much as possible from the original novel, and the changes being introduced are minimal. In fact, when it comes to the storyline, little has been changed — rather, we introduced slight modifications to the ordering of sequences or pacing for best effect as an interactive game, all while retaining the spirit of Lovecraft’s timeless story.

Following up on the previous question: What are the challenges of adapting a novel into a game?

It depends on the novel being adapted, of course, and in this case the transition has been quite smooth. Pacing is the major challenge, as Lovecraft was very slow-paced and descriptive, which can be a deal breaker in games these days. The general idea is to detect which parts of the story can be turned into interactive elements, such as an adventure game puzzle, and fortunately Charles Dexter Ward has plenty of them.

With the impending release of Asylum, how are you dividing work between the two titles?

It’s important to note that the Kickstarter campaign didn’t succeed, so our current team is 100% focused on Asylum. With the proper budget, we could have divided the work between two different teams.

The John Hay Library at Brown University!

Speaking of Asylum, as a Kickstarter veteran, do you have any advice for indie developers thinking of crowdfunding? What do you think is the most important thing they should have before doing it?

Crowdfunding can be deceiving and Kickstarter has become very unpredictable, even if you invest lots of effort in the campaign. My advice would be to build a strong community before tackling fundraising, otherwise your campaign may not receive enough attention.

Will The Case of Charles Dexter Ward be a First Person Adventure game, much like Scratches and Asylum? If so, will players be able to move with the keyboard or will all movement be using the mouse?

No, we’re planning the game as a third-person adventure, very much like games such as Broken Sword, Gabriel Knight or many LucasArts classics.

On a more technical level: how are you developing the game, what engine are you using for it?

We’ve recently switched to Unity for our productions, and we’re happy enough with it. What we’re using is a sort of hybrid between Unity and features from our in-house engine called Dagon. It’s working out pretty well.

On which component of Charles Dexter Ward are you currently working on?

Nothing for now, I’m afraid, as we don’t have funds to produce the game. We’ll see what 2015 brings!

Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers that we haven’t covered in the previous questions? (Say as much as you’d like)

I’d simply like to thank you all for the support and patience throughout these years. Even if our Kickstarter campaign for Charles Dexter Ward failed, we still managed to raise $110.000, which is no small feast these days. We’re still hard at work on Asylum, ensuring it fulfills its promise of an engrossing horror experience, and then hopefully tackle our new projects.


I’d like to once more thank Agustín for taking the time out of his busy schedule to respond for this interview.

This will also probably the last article published on The Mental Attic for 2014. See you next year!

Review: Randal’s Monday

Randal’s Monday is a point & click adventure game by Nexus Game Studios and published by Daedalic Entertainment. It follows Randal Hicks, who due to his own fault becomes trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario, repeating the same day over and over again.

The Good

  • Good visual style
  • Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes’ voice acting

The Bad

  • Uneven comedy
  • Reference overload
  • Shallow characters
  • Frustrating moon logic puzzles
  • Annoying inventory

Right before I received my review, I read the news that Jeff Anderson, the actor who portrays Randal Graves in Clerks, would be voicing this game’s Randal (whose name is a clear reference to that film: Randal’s name and Dante’s surname) and that Jason Mewes would have a cameo role. The article was distinctly mum on what the role might be but it turned out to be Jay, with his heterosexual life partner Silent Bob by his side (who’s not voiced by Kevin Smith, which is a real tragedy).

The game has a simple premise. Randal’s a good for nothing kleptomaniac bum who steals his best friend’s wedding ring. The band turns is actually cursed and forces Randal to relive the next day, Monday forever. Groundhog Day scenarios are difficult to pull off, and are fantastic tools for stories revolving around morality and growth. If everything resets, are you accountable for the atrocities you might commit? Is there any crime if it turns out to never happen? Those are the types of stories reserved for these tales, but Randal’s Monday isn’t one of them. One thing those scenarios need to be effective is a workable in-universe logic, which here goes out the window by the second Monday. I like that your actions affect the next Monday, as if the consequences for whatever you did just get piled on the next reset. It’s an interesting concept but the rules get wonkier when actions physically affect other characters, such as the barmaid who becomes more attractive with every Monday or a drunken one-night stand that turns into a marriage proposal and a girlfriend on the next day. “Whaaaat?” will be a question you ask yourself many times over the course of the game, in plot and gameplay.

The subway map...too many references in one place!
The subway map…too many references in one place!

The plot itself isn’t bad, it’s actually interesting but it takes too long to pay off. A smaller number of days would’ve been better and the game could have done without the Shawshank Redemption sequence near the end, which is too long, entirely devoid of entertainment and in fact has a blatant copy of a famous puzzle, the spitting competition from Monkey Island 2, only combined with the spit-based puzzle from near the end of that game. It’s one thing to have references, but when you rip off a puzzle, two in fact, then you’ve crossed a line.

The Ring itself behaves a lot like the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings, with its own agenda and malicious intent. By the end they even bring in the apocalypse and the Four Horsemen, but while the true villain isn’t obvious, it’s another “Whaaaat?” moment, because it seemingly comes from nowhere.

Crossing lines is what Randal’s Monday does best with its overkill references. One or two or even many spread out thinly over the course of the game can give your players fun chuckle moments, but Nexus goes overboard with them. Everything is a reference to another thing and when everything is a reference, nothing is original or entertaining. It took this ‘humorous’ game five of its days to do something funny. Aside from that, I never laughed once. One example is the comic book store with the HAL 9000 security system. I know the intention is to have a fun play with Space Odyssey, but they go too far by keeping the computer’s name, using the same red-eye design, giving it the same voice and even use the name Dave in dialogue. It’s too much piled on and it stops being clever and becomes dull. And don’t get me started on the Adamantium Claws.

I do love the attention to detail here!
I do love the attention to detail here!

Randal’s Monday’s humour is clearly Clerk-ish, a distinct style dependent on “dick and fart jokes,” but the writers at Nexus lack the comedic and dialogue genius of Kevin Smith and because of that, the humour sometime mostly falls flat and the characters come off unappealing instead of satirized over-the-top personalities. Randal is hands down one of the most unlikeable characters in video games. He learns nothing and he doesn’t grow, remaining the same disgusting human being throughout. The rest of the cast are cardboard cut-outs, with simple and bland (or annoying) personalities. The greatest offender is the extremely cliché hard-ass Detective you meet almost every day, who at no point is even remotely funny. It’s the Dirty Harry stereotype but it isn’t played with well enough to give you some entertainment value.

When I said you’ll ask yourself “Whaaaat?” in gameplay, it’s because the game claims there are a small number of “strange” puzzles but that most are logic based. Yes, moon-logic based. At any given time you’ll have items in your inventory that you know are sensible solutions to the current problem, but none of them will work. Instead, as with most moon-logic games, you’ll have to find the most circuitous way to the solution, using items in ways no one has ever even conceived they should be used. Sure, there’s a feeling of elation, accomplishment even when you do solve one, but for the most part you’ll just be frustrated. The comic-book styled inventory doesn’t help, as there are sometimes items you have to combine but they’re on different pages and if the combination is incorrect, you have to get the item, return to the previous pages and try again.

Even more references here. I do like the character sprites!
Even more references here. I do like the character sprites!

In terms of sound, the music is actually pretty nice, but it could’ve used a bit more variety, especially as you’re constantly revisiting the same places over the course of several days. Voice acting is good, with the best being Anderson and Mewes. Then again, they aren’t playing new characters but ones they’ve been playing for the past 20 years. Randal Hicks IS Randal Graves in everything but the name and they have Jay & Silent Bob in the game.

My favourite part of the game has to be the visuals. The cartoon style is really good, even with the large wobble-like heads and even if they go overboard with the references, they are very well animated, and the comic book store has actual comic book covers. I recognized a few in there and Jay & Silent Bob are spot on from their Clerks counterparts. Despite that, there is some pixel hunting, as some items are very difficult to see.

Every surface is crawling with references. The "birthday" puzzle here is insane...
Every surface is crawling with references. The “birthday” puzzle here is insane…

Randal’s Monday is a game that desperately wants to entertain you and be ‘old-school’ at the same time, but between the absurd puzzles and inventory, the weak writing and the overuse of references it comes off short. Still, for adventure gamers it offers a significant challenge.

TMA Score: Wait for a Sale.

Review: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action roleplaying game developed by Monolith, set in the Lords of the Rings universe by J.R.R. Tolkien and between the Hobbit and the aforementioned trilogy.

The Good

  • The nemesis system
  • Good combat and stealth
  • Gameplay variety

The Bad

  • Weak characterization
  • Disappointing collectibles and side-quests
  • Weak climax and ending

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (SoM for the rest of this review) puts you in the shoes of Talion, a Ranger Captain on the Black Gate separating Mordor from the rest of middle earth. When the game opens he’s sadly demised and by grasping objects from his now past life, he gets glimpses of the events that led him to his current condition. Servants of Sauron infiltrated the black gate and killed everyone inside, with him and his family being the last victims, their throats slit as part of a ritual by the Black Hand of Sauron, one of the Dark Lord’s three lieutenants: The Hand, the Tower and the Hammer. In death, Talion discovers he’s bound to an Elven Wraith and with his aid, he returns to life. Neither of them can pass on until they break the curse the binds them, for which they need to hunt the Black Hand of Sauron and kill him.

As far as LotR tie-in game plots, this is one of the strongest. It’s a fairly straightforward tale and there aren’t that many surprises, but it’s still enjoyable right up to the end where it stumbles and fails to deliver a satisfying end. The biggest surprise happens early on with the discovery of the Elven Lord’s identity, but after that the main quests just focus on unlocking more of your ghostly companion’s abilities and building your puppet army leading up to the final confrontation with the forces of Sauron. Sadly, the final mission, which had the potential of an explosive climax, wastes the opportunity with a nonsensical QTE boss fight. The cutscenes before, during and after the fight are longer than the fight itself which is tremendously disappointing for such an exciting game.

I am Batman! No, I am!
I am Batman! No, I am!

Characterization is mixed. The main characters are rather bland, playing the Batman personality to the letter right up to the end. There is little to no character growth and when it almost dares to show its ugly head for Talion, moments where the Ranger could show some genuine emotion, the Elven lord quickly stomps it out. The ghost is harsh and unfriendly and even when he’s trying to be nice he comes off as a bit of a prick. The rest of the cast is thankfully more varied in personalities compared to the Batman clones you get to play as. My favourite remains Ratbag, an orc you help get into power. He’s sniveling and groveling but also scheming and opportunistic. He’s openly evil and I like it. Sadly, he doesn’t show up beyond the first of the game’s two maps. Gollum makes an appearance and there’s really not much to say about it. It’s Gollum, by now we all know the character and what he’s like. Queen Marwen, Lithariel and Torvin are welcome additions but their strong performances only make the main characters look more two-dimensional. Having said so, the portrayals and voice acting are solid up to and including all orcs living around Mordor.

I like is how their binding is reflected in game. Some actions shift you from Talion to the Wraith and back again, such as jumping from high altitude or using the bow and arrow or activating the Wraith World, this game’s version of the Assassin’s Creed Eagle Eye or Arkham Batman’s Detective vision, though better balanced than those two. The Wraith vision lets you see enemy and objective positions but it obscures the terrain, making it difficult to see where you’re going, which firmly cements it as a supporting ability and not your main view of choice. Then again, with how gorgeous the environments are, even considering how drab, brown and black the first Mordor map is, it would really be a waste to spend all that time in Wraith World.

The Hand of Sauron, oh how I wish I could've beaten you silly!
The Hand of Sauron, oh how I wish I could’ve beaten you silly!

Combat is a joy, a mix of attacks, dodges, counters and acrobatics. My previous comparisons to Batman are the most evident in this aspect. The freeflow combat even has the hit multiplier and finisher mechanics from the Arkham series, only with a lot more blood and some fun decapitations mixed in. Every attack you make increases the combo counter and when you hit 8 (5 with an upgrade) the number turns red and you can execute a finisher. The first one is the most straightforward, just a one-hit-kill attack. With upgrades you can perform more than one finisher and even unlock new ones. One of my favourites is the fire arrow, which I used extensively, but then again, I was more of a knife and bow master.

The bow is easy to use but requires some ability to master, to properly aim and fire before you run out of Focus, the small draining bar that keeps time virtually stopped for you. The bow fires ghostly arrows called Elfshot, which you can pick up from the environment or by branding/draining enemies (more on that below). With enough upgrades you can recharge your elfshot and keep firing in the middle of combat, something that is pretty damn useful (and fun) when you’re surrounded by some of the tougher enemies like shield-bearers and berserkers.

Executions are so blood fun!!
Executions are so blood fun!!

Stealth handles similarly to AC games, with an arrow over the enemies’ heads letting you know how aware they are of your presence. Yellow means suspicious, Red means they’re coming for ya. The thing I liked the most about the stealth is you can use the Stealth Kills even while running because as long as an enemy isn’t aware of you, it doesn’t matter if you’re creeping towards him or running full pelt. Even if they do see you, they will first be startled by the discovery and this is a window of opportunity to still use the Stealth Kill on them. Best of all, one guard discovering you isn’t the end of your stealth. As long as a group doesn’t see you and no one sounds the alarm, you can dispatch everyone and get back to skulking. I love it.

It’s up to you to decide how you’ll handle the missions: sniping with the bow, skulking for stealth, just wrecking everything in your path or even mount the deadly Caragor and use them to cut a path through the enemy forces. The freedom of gameplay is one of SoM’s greatest accomplishments and one of the things I loved the most.

Draining becomes so more useful when you can use it to brand!
Draining becomes so more useful when you can use it to brand!

But the best part about Shadows of Mordor has to be the Nemesis System, which handles orc behaviour and society. It’s amazing how the focus on strength of orc society is represented in this system. If an orc kills you he gets promoted from simple rank-and-file to captain, and from then on they’ll autonomously fight each other, go on recruitment drives and even offer feasts and fight beasts, all with the purpose of increasing their power amongst the rest of the orcs. Even without you and just by passing the time, the power structures will build and topple and rebuild themselves. It’s frankly fascinating and promises an almost endless supply of powerful enemies to fight. Captains have their own strengths and weaknesses meaning there’s a different strategy to fighting each of them. At first you won’t know what they are, but by interrogating Worms—orcs carrying intel—you can discover who they are and what makes them tick. Weaknesses range from being vulnerable to stealth kills to being afraid of you, which is frankly amusing to see.

The Nemesis system makes things personal, by having the Orcs who previously defeated you scream taunts and jeers when you meet in battle again. I met a Captain with a specific Strength that says the Orc will never finish you off, instead he’ll mock you and leave you. He defeated me three times, rising in power and station and making me seethe. I made sure that when I finally took him out, he’d suffer. I purposely raised the alarm near him, so his men would swarm me but then disappeared, climbing high. Then, as they ran around looking for me I jumped off the edge and air-assassinated his ass, thanks to his weakness to Stealth Kills. In the end he died surrounded by his men and learned that numbers wouldn’t save him…then his men beat the living hell out of me and another Orc rose to take his place. But he didn’t last long!

At any point you can check out the armies of Mordor to find your next target, or which ones are under your control!
At any point you can check out the armies of Mordor to find your next target, or which ones are under your control!

Best of all is how you can interact with the system. There are quests everywhere to undermine the different captain’s efforts or benefit them. At first there isn’t much reason to do so beyond story missions, but once you get the ability to brand enemies with your drain skill (which takes a chunk of health and replenishes elfshot) and make them your loyal followers, then it becomes an empire building game. By the end of my playthrough I had fully dominated the entire army on two different maps. Everyone was mine to command, from the lowly captains to the mighty Warchiefs.

Branding also plays a part in combat, as you can brand enemies and slowly turn the tide in your favour by making the orcs attack each other. In fact, some captains have a weakness for that, escaping if they see orc turncoats.

While the Nemesis System keeps you busy for most of the time and even well beyond the main campaign, there are of course a bunch of side-quests for you to keep busy. First among them are the Outcast quests, obtained by releasing human slaves from captivity and which consist on helping a few more slaves escape. The quests themselves are astonishingly repetitive but the varied secondary options keep each of them fresh and interesting to a degree. Then there are the Ithildin, glowing letters you collect to form a message on a wall, but if you’re expecting an upgrade or anything tangible for collecting them all, then you’re in for a disappointing experience. There’s only a bit of lore fluff waiting for you at the end, and not even enough to satisfy LotR fans. Then there are the weapon legend sub-quests, for the bow, sword and dagger and these are outstandingly fun, each presenting a greater challenge than the other and with interesting secondary objectives. The point of them is to forge the legend of the weapons you carry, but once you do and reach the end of the quest lines you’ll again find yourself without any tangible benefit, just a weapon decorated in elven script when you look at it closely. Finally there are hunting and survival challenges, the former asking you to kill a certain number of a given creature and the latter doing the same but collecting plants.

Orcs have a variety of Strengths and Weaknesses, some badass, some quite funny!
Orcs have a variety of Strengths and Weaknesses, some badass, some quite funny!

The main and side-quests give you experience and Mirian, both of which tie into the upgrade system. Experience unlocks Ability Points, used to buy new skills to improve your combat, archery and stealth skills, with the last few upgrades being outstandingly powerful, especially the Lethal Shadow Strike aka Overpowered Elf Arrow, which you can use to fire at an enemy, teleport to it and chop its head off. It takes two elfshot to pull off but still. Mirian upgrades your attributes: Health, Focus, Elfshot maximum and rune-slots for your weapons. You can also acquire three super-powered skills with Mirian. For example, the dagger one lets you perform unlimited stealth kills for 20 seconds; the sword one unlimited executions in the same time; and the bow one gives you endless focus and elfshot for that same duration. It takes stealth kills, executions and headshots respectively to replenish the ability but using them can turn the tide of a battle. I used them on the final mission and obliterated enemy forces.

All Captains and Warchiefs can drop Runes when they die, the type depending on how you killed/attacked them. There are sword, dagger and bow runes and each provide different bonuses and range from level 1 runes up to Epic, the latter ones giving you outstanding benefits. The large variety of runes means you can customize your weapons to perfectly match your playstyle, which is quite fantastic. My bow runes gave me more focus on headshots and the dagger ones replenished the stealth superpower bar more quickly when I stealth killed someone. The sword ones on the other hand I centered around replenishing my resources when I blocked and countered, as some enemies can really take it out of you.

Nothing beats turning Captains against their Warchief in the middle of combat!
Nothing beats turning Captains against their Warchief in the middle of combat!

To conclude, the Shadow of Mordor isn’t just a fantastic adaptation of the Lord of the Rings world, adding its own value to the mythology but it’s an outstanding game on its own right, implementing a complex society management system and taking mechanics we’ve seen in other games and presenting them with such a degree of polish they become new once more. This is a game everyone should play, even non-LotR fans.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying!

Review: The Evil Within

The Evil Within is a Survival Horror game developed by Tango Gameworks and ‘legendary’ designer Shinji Mikami, the mind behind Capcom’s Resident Evil. It promises to takes us back to the roots of the genre.

The Good

  • Surreal settings
  • Good visuals
  • Solid audio

The Bad

  • Disjunctive storytelling
  • Incoherent Plot
  • Inconsistent gameplay and atmosphere
  • Too many one-hit deaths
  • Weak horror
  • Boss rehash
  • Pathetic final boss
  • Punishing resource scarcity
  • Shallow crafting
  • Bad trap design

I was a big fan, still am, of the original Resident Evil games. I always thought they were very well designed, a combination of good action, puzzling and creepy atmospheres. With that mindset I expected a lot from The Evil Within. I expected to find what Resident Evil lost when it shifted to action. I expected the game to frighten me as I had seen other genre titles do in the past, such as Fatal Frame or even Dead Space.

The Evil Within failed to meet even one expectation, leaving me sorely disappointed and thinking I had just wasted a good birthday present (because it’s pretty damn expensive). I overestimated Shinji Mikami’s abilities and got a subpar game because of it.

The intro, it doesn't last very long nor does it build any atmosphere!
The intro, it doesn’t last very long nor does it build any atmosphere!

It’s not that it’s entirely bad, it’s not, there is potential in every part of the game’s design, but it just doesn’t come to fruition and feels unpolished.

Let’s get the good parts out of the way, because there aren’t many. The visuals are very good, from the brightly lit set pieces to the gloomy corridors, and especially with the more unreal locations and sequences. The use of shadows is brilliant and could have done a lot for the game’s mood if the rest of it didn’t ruin it. There is some reuse of locations, especially the mental hospital, but it’s not too bad. One point I hate though is the film grain and letterboxing (the black-bars on the top and bottom), which only limit your field of view and make noticing things very difficult. I lowered the grain to about half and there was still too much of it. The soundtrack has some very moody tunes, and the sound effects in the creepy locations are spot on. But as with the visuals, the rest of the game undoes whatever the sound design could have accomplished. Voice acting isn’t bad but no dialogue is believable, though I’m more willing to pin that one on bad writing than bad performance. I will say Leslie’s the best character in terms of voice performance. You can feel the angst, the fear and despair in him, which is more than I can say for everyone else.


The plot is a mess. It’s the typical story of breakthrough but cruel medical experiment gone wrong, with the characters dealing with the fallout. It’s so by-the-numbers in its premise that from the moment you meet them, you can predict what will happen to each of these cliché characters. Characterization is weak and flat. Castellanos, the main character, has an alcoholism and family loss backstory that doesn’t tie into the game’s plot nor is it referenced at any point. And going by the portrayal, they could have given him any background and he’d still be the same surly bastard. It’s even more jarring when the background notes portray him as an idealist and you see he’s anything but. It’s an attempt to humanize the character by giving him a dramatic backstory to care for him, but for that to be effective we have to actually give a damn about him. The worst realization I had while playing was that the character was ultimately meaningless, and he could have been silent for how much his words matter in any given conversation. The game also makes the mistake of reuniting and separating you from the rest of the cast almost every chapter, giving you very little time to actually give two damns about them. The disjunctive chapter storytelling helps sell the surreal and nightmarish nature of the story and setting but makes it so the game has to have catch-up chapters to give you exposition. Because you jump around from place to place, you can’t delve deeper into the mysteries and therefore the game has to have tell-not-show moments when it tells you what’s going on.

Each level, because that’s what the chapters really are, takes you to different places with very linear layouts. There is room for exploration, but it’s shallow at best and not always available. Some stages are just a series of corridors. Even the highway and city levels, with arguably the greatest potential for diverging paths and exploration rewards, act as nothing more than glorified arenas. While the locations themselves are surreal, mixing ancient villages with higher technologies or some mind-palace labyrinths, they are ultimately wasted by the game’s lack of consistency in tone and atmosphere. At times, the game is about exploring areas and finding monsters on the way, and at others, it just throws wave after wave after wave of enemies for you to use your dwindling resources on. When it does the (shallow) exploration with occasional confrontations, it comes close to being an actual horror game, but switches things up without building up any suspense, let alone fear.

When it works, the game’s combat handles beautifully but the problem is it doesn’t always work well. To give you an example: at one point I had very little ammo and had three creatures in front of me. Shooting them all wasn’t an option as they’re all bullet sponges. I thought of dropping them to the floor and then using a match to burn them all thus instantly killing them (in this game a match is more powerful than a Magnum). I then thought to myself, “I’ll shoot their legs, then burn, it worked on the last guy!” But I found myself wasting all my ammo because shooting them in the leg only sometimes makes them fall down. It’s the same with headshots, sometimes the heads blow up, sometimes they split in half, and sometimes they just don’t do anything. There is a severe lack of consistency when it comes to the combat mechanics. Oh and don’t even consider melee. It just tickles enemies, even if you continue to wail at them like a maniac. The first hit will stagger the, but the rest won’t even faze them and they’ll just see it as an opening to attack you. The only way melee works is by taking the weapons from fallen enemies but they work for one hit then they vanish for some reason. It’s the same with torches; they’re worth one instant kill, that’s it.

That brings me to another point, The Evil Within’s one-hit-kill-mania. At any given time if you don’t have full health, which is almost a constant thing, enemy attacks can simply one-shot you. You get it for the big prick with the chainsaw because it’s a bloody chainsaw! But when it happens even with zombie-dude number 3, you start getting quite irate. When monsters grab you, there’s a 50/50 chance of the button mash prompt to escape to show up or not. Bosses, which the chainsaw maniacs are, all have instant death attacks. If that wasn’t enough, there are hundreds of one-hit kill sequences, from traps to sudden-camera-shift chase sequences. I have never played a game that has made me groan as much as this one. I kept saying, “one more bullshit death thing like this and I quit.” One particularly appalling sequence has you going into a series of rooms with two switches, one of them opens the way out and the other kills you instantly. There isn’t any way of knowing which one saves you other than trial-by-death, which I consider lazy puzzle design…and I’m being generous. By the end there’s a worse one, which has you running from a massive blade, but the camera shifts from your back to the front. Sounds good, right? That way you can tell there’s a blade coming, right? Well, how about if I told you there are suddenly puddles in front of you that bring you to a dead stop and which you can’t see because of how zoomed in the camera is? That’s exactly what happens. The only way of getting through is dying enough to know the puddle pattern. It’s appalling design.

One of the many one-hit-death moments in the game. There's an abundance of these!
One of the many one-hit-death moments in the game. There’s an abundance of these!

Bosses are a monumental pain in the arse, there’s no other way to say it, not only because of the previous point and the close-quarter nature of every encounter, but because the game keeps bringing them back. With a handful of exception you will often fight the same boss three or four times. The first time you encounter them, you appreciate how surreal they are in their design but by the third, you’re just annoyed you have to have the exact encounter again.

The fights themselves vary greatly in challenge, mostly depending on how many resources you have, but you will die at least once to some of them, such as the dog-thing, with hard to avoid lunges and barely any openings to attack. The final boss on the other hand is the complete opposite, shifting incoherently to big set pieces, a mounted assault cannon with unlimited ammo and the Shinji Mikami Rocket Launcher staple. It’s a weak end encounter, a dreadful boss design and it doesn’t match the rest of the game.

A guy with a safe for a head IS NOT SCARY, no matter how weird the screen gets when he pops up!
A guy with a safe for a head IS NOT SCARY, no matter how weird the screen gets when he pops up!

Overall, The Evil Within’s challenge is based on resource scarcity. You will rarely find ammo on the ground or dropping from enemies, and when you do, they hold very few rounds. It’s not uncommon in this game to be surrounded by enemies, finding a handgun ammunition pickup and getting one bullet. It’s pretty standard-fare but The Evil Within takes it to frustratingly punishing levels by setting you up against large numbers of enemies every time, followed by one or more bosses. It forces you to use the resources you’re trying to keep, no matter how intelligently or strategically you play, as the aforementioned inconsistent combat plays into it as well. Worse still is how randomized the drops are. There are some fixed ammo drops, but if you die, other drops will change on reload, which more often than not will hinder you instead of working to your advantage. I once found four shotgun shells in a box, then died and found nothing breaking that same container. It’s even worse considering how unhelpful the camera is when it comes to pick-ups; you have to be looking exactly at the item to pick it up and if the camera even twitches a millimeter away, you can’t pick the items up. It’s yet another layer of frustration to this game.

I mentioned the unbalanced mechanics, but another part of the ‘challenge’ comes from some of the enemy designs, which are just bloody unfair. Like the invisible zombies in the hospital, the only way to register their position is to watch out for puddles or moving equipment, but even if you manage to hit them they remain visible for just a fraction of a second, making it night-impossible to follow up your attack. When they get you, anything less than half-health means they kill you. It’s one of the most frustrating sequences in the game, and the frustration actually kills all the mood the game was trying to build. Also, for a cop, the main character can’t really run, getting tired three seconds into the sprint (about 6 second when upgraded) and then needing almost twice that long to recover—except on the pre-determined chase sequences where he has unlimited stamina. It feels unnecessarily and unjustifiably punishing. It makes avoiding enemies and bosses sometimes feel like an exercise in futility and as a matter of fact, it’s sometimes easier to let bosses hit you, except for those you know will kill you if they touch you. Enemies can also stun-lock you to death, another thing that happened quite often when I tried to reposition myself for an attack.

One of the worst mistakes The Evil Within ever did was showcasing the bosses in the trailer! The lost the element of surprise!
One of the worst mistakes The Evil Within ever did was showcasing the bosses in the trailer! The lost the element of surprise!

Another problem with the drops is how it ties into the upgrade system, because of course there is one (what game nowadays doesn’t have one). Every container has an equal chance of giving you ammunition or health, which you desperately need, or Green Gel aka Upgrade Goo. On the upside the upgrades are mostly meaningful, with the exceptions of the melee attack, which takes your wild flinging from poor to mediocre at best. The downside is some of the upgrades are nonsensical. I get upgrading weapons your own innate skills, but are you seriously telling me you’re injecting yourself with green goo to increase your ammo carry capacity? Does the goo transform into extra pockets? It’s nitpicky I know but it feels tacked on only to force the scarcity, to prevent you from collecting ammo which you’ll desperately need, and which happened to me over the course of the playthrough more than once. Upgrades also become so expensive that even collecting every bit of green gel will make it impossible to improve some stats.

Finally, there’s the crafting system, one of the things I had the biggest hopes for in this game. Early trailers showed the character building his own traps and ammunition and weapons, but it turns out the only thing you do make are crossbow bolts. Sure, there are a variety of them, but it feels shallow, as if it was part of a scrapped bigger idea. The bolts themselves also require upgrades but I didn’t really bother with them, too expensive for what they actually do (later on, enemies will use bolts against you and theirs work a thousand times better than yours do). You build them by collecting parts from the ground or dismantling traps. Each bolt has a part cost, and given you need to upgrade your carry capacity you can’t really have too many arrows of any one kind. But you can’t create your own traps, you can’t craft ammo and when you can create explosive, freezing, shocking and flamethrower arrows, you can’t expect me to believe you can’t rustle up a bullet, especially considering how intricate those bolts look!

This is The Evil Within's horror, Hostel and Saw, blood and blades. It doesn't work!
This is The Evil Within’s horror, Hostel and Saw, blood and blades. It doesn’t work!

Traps would’ve greatly expanded the gameplay. You can already use some traps in the environment for your own purposes though more than likely you’ll trip on them, as they’re really difficult to see unless you’re walking extra-slow. Trip-wire and bear traps work on everyone but for some reason the proximity/movement mines only detect you and dismantling them is pretty much a QTE, pressing the button at the right time to make the dial stop at the green zone. If you fail, you’ll either lose a chunk of health or just die, succeed and you get a couple of parts. By the end I stopped dismantling them and just shot them when enemies were close enough.

But what I consider The Evil Within’s greatest weakness/crime/disappointment is its weak horror. As I mentioned above, when you’re exploring creepy environments and you get enemies stalking the halls, the game comes close, but it never reaches horror. It tries to scare you through shock value, by overusing blood, guts and torture chambers. It might just be me, but after a decade of similar games and films, I’m completely desensitized to that brand of ‘horror’. It’s just garish, boring and uninspired, there is no chill factor, no eeriness, just a constant stream of pain. As I recently said during a podcast: “It’s the equivalent of having someone screaming in your face, it’s not scary, it’s just annoying!” And I maintain that position. Years ago, when no one had ever screamed in my face, it would’ve startled and scared the hell out of me, now I’m just done with it. The frustration part of the game’s shoddy design also helps kill whatever horror the game aims for. This was the most disappointing horror experience I have ever played. It also doesn’t help to have a goofy setting like this one; I mean I can’t take Krimson City seriously, no matter what game it is. It tries too hard (Krimson is crimson, like blood, get it?) and fails miserably.

I wish the game had used more of these, or given the surreal sequences more time to be actually effective!
I wish the game had used more of these, or given the surreal sequences more time to be actually effective! Oh and yes, you are escaping from a red cloud of death.

The Evil Within and Shinji Mikami not only fail miserably in reviving the genre or return us to the good old roots, but might also completely steer people away from Survival Horror. I am beyond disappointed, I am horrified by this game and not in the good way I expected to be. It’s punishing and frustrating but not in the fun Dark-Souls-y way but in the unfair “This is bullshit!” way.

The Mental Attic Score: Oh Hell No! I will never play this game ever again.

Interview – Olga Ryzhko – Frogwares – Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Sherlock Holmes, Crimes & Punishments is an adventure game, developed by Frogwares. It places players in the shoes of the great detective Sherlock Holmes, solving six independent cases, using all the deductive tools in his arsenal.

Recently, before playing the game for our review. We contacted Olga Ryzhko, Frogwares’ Marketing and Business Development Manager, to ask her a few things about the game and its design and development. Below are her replies. Enjoy!

First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.
My pleasure!

Where does Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments fit in the series’ chronology? Sherlock certainly looks younger than he does in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes.
One of my most favourite questions. I always have a hard time answering it 🙂 So here we go:
1888 – Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper
1894 – The Awakened
1895 – Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsène Lupin
1897 – Secret of the Silver Earring
1898 – Testament of Sherlock Holmes
1899 – The Mystery of the Mummy
Crimes & Punishments takes place definitely before The Testament, Black Peter case is set in 1895, so it’s in between.

Previous titles in the series had one large case that made up the plot, with the investigation (and puzzle solving) revealing more aspects of it, but Crimes & Punishments focuses on smaller investigations instead. What made you decide to shift to a collection of shorter stories instead of a larger one?
Smaller cases in Crimes & Punishments are now similar to the novelettes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. On the other hand, one of the biggest things in the game is your ability to make your own decisions during the investigation. Remember, every decision in the game has its own impact?  I tend to believe those choices play greater role in the smaller cases rather than in one big story.

Early gameplay trailers show there are decision points in the game, on accusing the different subjects and how the arrest and punishment should be handled. Can you tell us more about this ‘morality’ system?
Right, there are two types of choices to make.
First, decides on the guilty party, as there are several suspects in each case and all of them seem to have their own reasons to commit the crime. So there are plenty of chances to accuse the wrong suspect if interpreting the clues in the wrong way or making the wrong deductions.
Second, once you are confident on the culprit you can choose to condemn or absolve them. It’s not about approving the murder but you might justify their reasons of why they did it. Our morality system doesn’t judge if you are good or bad, there is no black and white here. We only communicate your decisions and we respect them.

With the focus shifting to criminal investigations and clues, will there still be logic puzzles like those found in previous titles, such as the puzzle boxes found in Testament?
Crimes & Punishments is not that heavy on the puzzles as our previous instalments but there is a big variety of puzzles to solve including logic, detective and others.

Aside from Sherlock and Watson, are there any other familiar characters coming back for Crimes & Punishments?
Sure! You will meet Mycroft Holmes, Mrs Hudson, Baker Street Irregulars, Inspector Lestrade.

On design: the Sherlock Holmes series has always had very intriguing puzzles (the number sequence ones being my kryptonite), what goes into designing them? Do you revise the puzzles as they go along, tweaking the difficulty and clues?
Thank you! Indeed puzzles play rather big role in Sherlock Holmes game and it is difficult to satisfy all the players. There is a delicate balance in puzzles difficulty and we continue our experiments with every game we develop. Our biggest challenge with Crimes & Punishments was to insert puzzles into the story and to make sure they do not distract you from the actual gameplay. We discussed our puzzles in the devblog here.

Have there been puzzles you’ve had to scrap? Do you forget about them or do you shelve them to use in a future title?
It’s a usual thing – sometimes you need to keep the designers grounded otherwise they have no limits. Some puzzles didn’t fit the game, we physically were not able to make others, we omitted all 2Ds and focused on 3D puzzles instead, some were not possible due to technical restrictions, etc. Do we forget any of them? – Never.

Speaking of scrapping, were there any features you had to remove from the final version of the game, for time or budget reasons? If so, will they be made available at some point via DLC?
We do not plan DLC for Crimes & Punishments; it’s our first ‘episodic’ game and we never made any for the previous games.
Speaking of the features – it’s similar to puzzles: some didn’t fit, others were technically impossible. Do we forget any of them? – Never.

Sherlock relaxing after a job well done!
Sherlock relaxing after a job well done!

For the team: What’s the most fun part of the game (case, puzzle, character, dialogue, etc.) for you and why?
I will list them from the funniest to less fun (according to the team interview): developers themselves, deduction space, characters, and cases.

For the team: How do you prefer to play the game: First or Third Person Perspective?
So I’ve made a poll on Frogwares internal website asking to explain my colleagues’ preferences; as expected, there is no single answer, voices split into 50/50. Some prefer 3rd person camera, others enjoy 1st. Arguments relate to seeing Sherlock Holmes himself and feeling being him, making fun of his wardrobe (you can’t see it with 1st person camera) or paying more attention to the Victorian setting instead to the character; there are those who switch depending on the locations. So we are happy to have both cameras in the game.

On the development side: how large was the Crimes & Punishments development team? Was there an overlap with the Call of Cthulhu team or does each title have its own staff?
Rather large, especially for Frogwares. I’d say around 50 with peaks of 80 people.
Both games have their own teams. The development of Crimes & Punishments and the one of Call of Cthulhu do not match in time – when we started CoC, we were finishing Sherlock Holmes game. So it’s pretty easy to switch people if needed; thankfully it’s not very often to happen.

The next big thing for Frogwares!
The next big thing for Frogwares!

Were there any challenges with using the Unreal Engine 3? Also, with the release of the UE4, are there plans on using this engine in future titles or remake previous ones?
Crimes & Punishments is our second game built with UE3, so it was easier for the tech team.

Do you have any advice on adventure game design for independent developers?
I’d advice to create what they want, not what they expect people to want.

What’s next for Frogwares after Crimes & Punishments? Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming Call of Cthulhu or future Sherlock plans?
I’d be happy to share our future plans but it is too early now. So I suggest we talk some time in future.

Once again, thank you for your time.
Thanks for your interest and thank you for letting me share this with you.

Review: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments is the latest entry in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes series. Instead of a grand scheme, this game treats us to six different cases that need Sherlock’s amazing deductive skills.

The Good

  • Fantastic puzzles
  • Brilliant deduction system
  • Beautiful visuals
  • Interesting and varied cases
  • Intriguing morality system

The Bad

  • Too many samey lock-picking puzzles.
  • A couple of cases are too straightforward.

Previous titles in Frogware’s series placed Sherlock on the pursuit of a large conspiracy, with several minor investigations to propel the story further. This time around however, we are treated to a classic approach to Sherlock Holmes: independent cases. If you read the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, most of the stories are just like this, one-off deductive adventures. Six consecutive cases compose the game, each with varying degrees of complexity and an abundance of red herrings. It’s classic Sherlock on PC, and I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. Having said so, a couple of the cases are too straightforward, with the responsible parties being pretty obvious.

The red herrings actually form the basis of the game’s deductive system. While on a case, any new insight you glean becomes a Clue and pairing up clues creates a node in your deductive space, modeled like neurons in Sherlock’s brain. When you have matching deductions, these will link and generate new deductions, some of which are new investigative avenues for you. Some, however, will have double meaning. You might have proof that someone had a motive for a murder, but some other evidence might point out his innocence, and the deduction space reflects that by making the node a dual one, the branching deductions depending on which one you choose. False leads and wrong conclusions come into play almost organically from your observations, which I think is the greatest accomplishment of the game’s deductive system; no matter your choice, it feels natural. Once you have enough evidence or deductions to make a case against a suspect, a golden node will spawn, representing one of the many conclusions possible. Once you’ve unlocked them all, by changing your assumptions on the different dual nodes, you can simply press a button to check your conclusion list before making your choice.

Profiling helps deduce important facts!
Profiling helps deduce important facts!

Once you’ve committed to a conclusion you have to decide how you’ll solve the case. You will have two choices at any given time: Convict or Absolve, harsh or merciful. It’s the game’s version of a morality system, helping you shape the man Sherlock ultimately is under your guide. What’s really interesting, however, is that no matter the choice, it never plays out in an out-of-character way. Whether he convicts a man or lets him go, it feels as something Sherlock would do. I was ready to have issues with this morality system but when I saw how it worked, I realized it’s a brilliant mechanic. It gives the player the feeling of choice, but it also remains true to the Sherlock Holmes we all know.

There are some inventory-based puzzles but they’re the minority, as most tend to be about observation and logical analysis. My favourite puzzles were the association ones. At a couple of spots in the game, Sherlock finds a familiar smell but doesn’t immediately know where from, so he needs help to visualize the objects he associates with the smell. These are image perspective puzzles, where you get a fragmented image, and you have to rotate it to find the point of view from which you can see the whole thing. I’m only sad that you don’t use these more, as they are quite brilliant. Instead of the complex puzzle-based locks present in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes¸ this time around all locks work the same, each increasing the complexity a bit more. While the first few times these puzzles are quite interesting, they become samey very quickly as they are all based on the same principle. Variety in the lock picking would’ve been nice.

The deduction space, where you'll (happily) spend most of the time!
The deduction space, where you’ll (happily) spend most of the time!

This game introduces two new mechanics to Sherlock’s arsenal: Sherlock Vision and Imagination, both of which you use to figure out new clues. Sherlock Vision automatically highlights important information in bright yellow, performing some initial and instant analysis before giving you the option to examine more closely. It doesn’t light up every other hotspot as it’s meant for specific clues. Imagination on the other hand reconstructs missing evidence, such as a box that might have been moved from a given spot. It also allows you to create simulations of how things might have happened. Both mechanics are very intuitive and easy to use.

As always, some evidence needs to be researched in Sherlock’s lab and archives, and Crimes & Punishments does away with the color-coded lab-puzzles from Testament, and favours a variety of lab analysis puzzles. The Roman Bathhouse case had the most of them and they are all fantastic, my favourite being the ice-cream recipe one. I can’t say more for fear of ruining it for you. Beyond the lab, however, every case will have at least one experiment, from testing out a ventilation system to throwing harpoons at pigs. Yes, I’m not making that up.

The best nose in the British Empire!
The best nose in the British Empire!

Crimes & Punishments does something really interesting with loading screens, which can get to be a bit long sometimes. While you’re on the carriage, the trip itself being the loading, you can check your clues and go over your deductions. I found this very useful, giving me the time to go over the notes and deductions before arriving to my destination, almost as if I sat next to Sherlock, looking over the case while he read Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment.

Finally there’s the social aspect: interrogations. Witness interviews and suspect interrogations are part of every case, and first you need to observe the suspects, using the visual cues they provide to build a profile on them. If you played Moebius: Empire Rising, it’ll be instantly familiar. When you have the appropriate information and you catch someone on a lie, a quick-time prompt will appear and you’ll have a chance to use your evidence against them, forcing the suspects to give up valuable information. It’s a simple system and it’s not overused and instead adds the challenge of getting it right every single time, as you must choose which piece of evidence to use to prove they are lying.

I love that the case-book he's checking in the loading screen matches the current case!
I love that the case-book he’s checking in the loading screen matches the current case!

This is the most beautiful Sherlock game Frogwares has made to date. The Unreal Engine takes the visual quality from previous iterations to a completely new level and brings Victorian England to us as never before. It’s not just the models and textures though, it’s the tiny details such as newspapers on the floor and garments hanging from chairs that take make Crimes & Punishment’s world come alive. Kew Gardens and Whitechapel are outstanding, the first with its rich floral majesty and the second as dark, grim and seedy as you’d come to expect.

Sound-wise, I loved the fact the music shifts tones to match the mood. At the start, the music is jovial, as it’s just another morning of Watson scrambling around the room while Sherlock shoots around with a blindfold on, but then in the first crime-scene it’s almost muted, just a few separate notes giving everything a mysterious air, and this trend continues for the rest of the game, the music even dying down when it would only be a distraction. Voice acting has always been one of the strongest points for the Sherlock games and it remains so in Crimes & Punishments. Some people have said they would love to have Benedict Cumberbatch voice this Sherlock, but not me, I think Nick Brimble does a fantastic job as the character.

Sherlock's costumes are something else!
Sherlock’s costumes are something else!

In the end, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments goes back to basics and delivers a true Sherlock experience. No grand plots, not a single mastermind behind everything, just a man using his brains to stump everyone else. It’s Sherlock through and through, so what more can we ask for?

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Overpaying! This is the highest score available on The Mental Attic.

Review: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition is the 2014 remake by Phoenix Online Studios and Pinkerton Road Studio of the 1993 Sierra hit. It follows the eponymous Gabriel Knight as he investigates a series of gruesome voodoo murders that tie in to his personal life in ways he really doesn’t see coming.

The Good

  • The world of Gabriel Knight in full glorious HD
  • The Star Journal
  • Remastered soundtrack
  • Altered puzzles
  • Schloss Ritter

The Bad

  • Visual glitches
  • Command wheel takes away some of the difficulty
  • Too many achievements

Gabriel Knight is a struggling novelist and owns a rundown antique bookstore. He’s seen better days and he’s desperate for a good story to turn into a novel. Thankfully, for him, his best friend is New Orleans Police Detective and he’s brought Gabriel into the voodoo murders case because of Knight’s promises to include a character based on him in the novel he’s working on. Gabriel also suffers from regular nightmares relating to these murders, which he discusses with his very unpaid assistant Grace Nakimura.

As the days go by (ten of them in total) and Gabriel gets deeper into the underground voodoo world, his life and that of the people closest to him, including distant relatives he never knew of, are put in jeopardy. The investigation also brings him closer to fulfilling his destiny, one that runs inextricably close to the people he’s investigating.

If only you could go scroll through them all!
If only you could go scroll through them all!

This is not a new game; it’s a 20-year-old one that received a major spruce-up, to help bring it to a whole new generation. Someone once asked me “Do we need this remake?” and beyond a fan saying yes because it’s one of their favourite series, I do feel that with Dosbox classics getting more and more unstable with new operating systems, a remake like this one does this series a lot of good, bringing it to a completely new generation. That being said, it’s difficult to review a game when it’s a remake of another, because if you take away the things that it has in common with the original, there isn’t much for the game to stand on by itself. But that is the nature of remakes, I suppose. So as much as I want to judge the game by itself, I can’t but draw parallels to its predecessor during my review.

Gameplay in the remake has changed in meaningful ways, some good and some mixed. The good are the journal, written in Gabe’s dad’s sketchbook, keeping track of the current events. It helps players know where they’re going in the story and provide subtle hints on what they should do next. The journal also gives you access to what I call the “Star Journal,” containing interesting facts about the original game and the work done for the remake. There are even some interviews with the original staff, conducted by Jane Jensen herself, and plenty of concept art and storyboards. The only downside is the “Star” content is location-specific, so you can’t just scroll through the entire thing. Once you cleared the game, it should’ve unlocked in the main menu at least, because many times I was focusing on solving puzzles and didn’t pay attention to it.

Close-up looks are now these fantastic pop-ups
Close-up looks are now these fantastic pop-ups

This version also allows you to skip ahead to the map instead of having to navigate through the environment to the exit, which you can still do of course and which I did plenty of times before I got used to the map button. It’s one of the game’s best new features, especially for veteran Gabriel Knight players.

Finally, interaction is through a Command Wheel. When you click a hotspot, the wheel displays all actions possible for that hotspot. In the original, you had a series of action icons you had to scroll through to find the appropriate one for a given spot, and I feel the Command Wheel lowers the difficulty of the game by immediately discarding all invalid actions for you. You no longer have to think, “Hmmm, what might be the correct action?” because that part is done for you. It’s a staple of modern adventure game design that I hoped wouldn’t make it to this game.

Player Score is back, tallying every important action or puzzle solved. You know your score’s increased every time you hear the now very familiar jingle. I missed two or three things while rushing to clear the game for this review and got 359/362 points, earning me a “Novice Schattenjäger” achievement. I might return for my full score achievement later on.

Conversations now feature 3D models. At the top you'll see the score counter!
Conversations now feature 3D models. At the top you’ll see the score counter!

Speaking of achievements, at least on the Steam version, they went overboard and now you get one achievement for every single little puzzle you solve. At first it seemed like a novelty but it started to feel almost patronizing, “There you go, you’re such a smart boy!” Some achievements, like overly complimenting Grandma Knight, are fine as they require you to go through entire conversation trees for funny effect, but Puzzle-specific achievements are too much.

On the upside, the remake changes a few puzzles and item locations, mixing things up for players of the original, and while there aren’t enough of these changes to make the experience a completely fresh one, they are quite capable of stumping you, even if only for a few seconds/minutes. I still remember how the relocation of the magnifying glass and tweezers threw me off my game, and that’s just at the start. Later on I assumed a “nothing is as it was” mentality and fared much better, finding instead that a lot is as it was. The puzzles themselves are still pretty damn good, especially when put against today’s standards. They are all logic-based, and there are plenty of hints in conversations and the environment to give your brain the jumpstart it needs to finish them. Sound logic, picking everything up like a kleptomaniac and talking to everyone you can will often yield all the results you need.

One of the first locations to have altered puzzle and item pickups!
One of the first locations to have altered puzzle and item pickups!

The plot is one of the best in adventure games, drawing from real cultural and historical sources, mixing reality and fantasy seamlessly to create a believable story. Even the supernatural elements are so well grounded in religious history that you could almost believe them. In fact, for newcomers this will be your first glimpse of Jensen’s trademark, mixing history and fantasy together brilliantly. Characterization is top notch and you care deeply for the characters, though it would’ve been nice if the game gave you more time to care about Wolfgang, especially considering his role in Gabriel’s character growth. Malia and Gabe’s romance could’ve used a bit more screen time as well, to at least disguise how obviously plot-related it is. Having said so, the romantic tension between Gabe and Grace is still fantastic.

Speaking of plot, the remake includes the Gabriel Knight graphic novel, which I urge new players not to read until they’ve cleared the game, as it reveals a bit too much about the game’s plot. As for veterans, go ahead, you’ll love it.

Now the cutscene includes the cops taking the body away!
Now the cutscene includes the cops taking the body away!

The true stars of this remake, however, are the visuals and sound. Robert Holmes has recomposed the entire soundtrack, adding more instruments and a lot more strength to an already powerful score and this is the game that will etch the melody for “When The Saints Go Marching In” into your brain for the rest of your days, much like its original did so many years ago. Voice acting is generally strong, though I still lament the loss of Mosely’s thick accent. The new GK actor certainly isn’t Tim Curry but he does a good job with the role and sounds appropriately sleazy, though on latter parts of the game his performance loses a bit of strength, especially when Gabriel is screaming in grief or rage. Same thing happens to Malia’s performance near the end, when she’s pleading with a certain ancestor spirit, there isn’t enough strength in the performance to be truly convincing. Having said so, her and Grace’s performances are the best in the game.

Schloss Ritter, I love it!
Schloss Ritter, I love it!

The updated visuals say goodbye to any of the pixel-hunting present in the original graphics, not that there was much of it to begin with. Locations have all received major overhauls and look absolutely fantastic, though my favourite, hands down, has to be Schloss Ritter, in which the developers married the castle’s looks from the original game and its sequel The Beast Within. It was a pleasure seeing the castle portrayed so beautifully.

However, there are a variety of visual glitches in the game that made me groan, such as clothing collision issues with shirts poking through coats, Gabriel being able to walk through people in the square, the game telling you the panel in front of the Gedde Tomb is closed when you can clearly see it uses the “open” model. I often experienced Gabriel walking to a hotspot and then take small steps back and forth, over and over again, as if adjusting his positions, but getting stuck until I pressed the ESC key to cancel the animation, which didn’t work every time. None of the glitches are major or game-breaking though, just annoyances.

For some close-up examination hotspots, such as Gabriel’s bookcase, the visuals are so good they look like photographs instead of 3D animation, and for all I know they could be. They are also presented to you in pop-up windows instead of using the main screen (via your typical black-screen-fade loading), allowing you to examine them and leave the close-up view seamlessly, without interrupting the rest of the gameplay, something I found myself loving and wishing more games did it as well.

I can't get enough of how good the castle looks now!
I can’t get enough of how good the castle looks now!

Plenty of sequences that used to be in the game’s engine and made you have to wait while the animations completed are now (skippable) cutscenes. A perfect example is early in the game in Lake Pontchartrain, the sequence where the police took the body away. In the 20th Anniversary Edition they’ve rolled that sequence into the Malia meeting cutscene, making it all happen quicker. In fact, some of the creepier parts of the game look even better with the new cutscenes.

One thing that I did feel was a wasted opportunity was not adding the original game to this release. Monkey Island Special Editions did it (sort of) and last year’s re-release of Flashback added the original game as well, accessible from the menu. As an anniversary edition, it would’ve been great to have the original there with the updated, to see for ourselves the before and after.

That's not a happy face, it's the shadow of the metal bar INSIDE the hole.
That’s not a happy face, it’s the shadow of the metal bar INSIDE the hole.

Gabriel Knight Sins of the Fathers bring the classic adventure to a whole new generation with updated visuals and music. While it doesn’t change things enough to be a fresh experience for players of the original, they will still find a really fun game. The concept art is enough to give any fan of the series a nostalgia-induced heart attack!

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying! I can’t wait for GK4, make it happen!