Hello again and welcome back to another requested review. One literature genre that translates pretty well to adventure games seems to be mystery tales, especially detective stories. There’s something special about solving a mystery, even better if it’s in the shoes of a hard-boiled detective. I’m talking about The Dame Was Loaded.
The Dame Was Loaded is an FMV adventure game produced by Australian developer Beam Software and published by Phillips Interactive Media. It was initially released in 1996 for the PC and Macintosh. It was re-released in 2018 for Windows and Linux at GOG.com.
But as always, let’s look at the covers first:
This is the original and the most well-known cover and seems like the cover of a detective noir novel. It looks quite good and shows pretty much almost all the clichés of the genre.
This is the cover for the Australian edition and it features 2 still photos taken from the game’s FMV clips. Although it also features better title art, it doesn’t convey the detective noir vibe as well as the original cover.
But it’s time to boot up this loaded dame:
As seen above, the game starts with a hazy intro featuring jazz music and is narrated by our protagonist, Scott Anger, a private detective in the 1940s who went through a rough patch (which we later find out about) and needs a case to clean up his mind. He’s then visited by a woman who’s looking for her brother and hires Anger to look for him. Scott’s partner, Ralph, then gives him 3 days to solve the case.
The game jumps right away to Scott’s POV in 1st person, where you can use the mouse to move around the screen, The mouse changes to an icon whenever it hovers over a hotspot. The mouse icons each depict all the possible actions: a magnifying glass to inspect (although you can also right-click to inspect), a grabbing hand to grab any object, a moving hand to operate, open or close objects, a speech balloon to talk to NPCs and an arrow to change screens. If you pick up any object, then the mouse icon will turn into that object and can be used with other objects or NPCs, or it can be stored in your inventory.
After the intro, the game properly starts with Scott sitting on his desk and after his client leaves, you can explore Scott’s desk and office (and pick up every possible object). If you click on the typewriter, you’ll have access to the game’s menu where you can save, load or quit the game. Unfortunately, Scott’s typewriter is the only place where you can save your progress (and no, you can’t take it with you), so you won’t have a lot of opportunities to save your progress throughout the game (in other words, no save-scumming allowed).
To access the inventory, you simply click both mouse buttons and Scott’s notebook appears on the left side of the screen. Here, you have access to Scott’s inventory (where you can only store up to 15 objects, although there’s a box in Scott’s office where you can safely store any object you don’t need and a closet for extra clothes), including Scott’s wallet and watch. If you click on the bottom corners of the notebook, you can cycle through the inventory and Scott’s notes about the case. I like the latter because it’s easy to lose track of all the clues and characters you investigate.
If you choose the wallet, you’ll have access to Scott’s money (if he has any) which can be used to buy stuff or bribe people. But don’t worry too much about running out of money, because not only you’re being paid daily, there are other opportunities to win some extra cash. If you choose the watch, you can read the time and if you click on it, you can skip the time by 10 minutes. This is useful because some locations are only available in the morning and others in the afternoon and evening. But be careful, because since you only have 3 days to solve the missing person’s case and you’ll need to make the most of every minute.
So, after picking up every possible object you can (and talking to Ralph, who gives you a few hints), you’re ready to leave your office. And after a small obstacle, you’re in Scott’s car. Here, you can hear some music (in fact, the only music throughout the game, not counting the intro and credits), play the air horn, access the trunk (where you can find a couple of useful objects), or open the glove compartment, where a map is located. On this map, there are several locations you can travel to. The map has 2 pages: the city centre and the outskirts. More locations will appear throughout the game but be aware that travelling anywhere will consume time. Just click on any location on the map and Scott’ll drive to it automatically.
To solve the case, you’ll need to question NPCs, show them the objects you pick up, and solve puzzles. The puzzles aren’t too hard by themselves but some sections are timed, meaning that you have limited time to solve all the puzzles during that section and not be caught when time runs out. If you’re caught, the best-case scenario is that you might need to repeat them or look for an alternative solution (if there’s any). Worst case scenario, it’s game over. These timed sections along with the limited save opportunities, make the game unnecessarily difficult. Lots of times, I failed a timed section and after loading the last saved game, I had to repeat almost the entire day up to that point.
Luckily, if you find yourself stumbling at a puzzle, sometimes there are alternative solutions to a specific puzzle or alternative routes you can explore to progress throughout the game, although there are still some events that are essential to advance the story. The puzzles themselves are of variable difficulty and there’s some pixel-hunting involved. It’s the timed puzzles that are truly hard, as mentioned above. Don’t be afraid to use a walkthrough if you ever get stuck.
Also, every time I get a new clue or lead (you’ll know when it happens because Scott’ll do a mini-monologue about it), you’ll need to backtrack to a previous location and/or NPC to question them about the new lead (or trigger some new event) and they’re no longer available that day and you have to wait until next morning. So, you need to take note of every available location at each period and plan your day around it to maximise every day because if you reach the end of the 3rd day without triggering a specific event, it’s game over.
The story and characters are full of cliches of the detective noir genre, with crime, drama, backstabbing, twists, etc. The acting is mostly over the top, playing on those mentioned cliches which come out as funny, even during the dramatic parts. The game starts with a missing person case but evolves into a much bigger case that involves Scott’s recent past (which we’ll learn throughout the game). Scott Anger himself is a very typical private detective type with a quick wit when confronted with any situation.
For the technical aspects, the graphics are good for the time, despite most of them being from still images. The animation is all FMV clips, either from dialogues or solving puzzles. And with some exceptions, no animations move from screen to screen. The sound effects are good but as I said before, there’s little music throughout the game. The game is played exclusively using the mouse and its scheme is intuitive (although you might have some trouble learning to access the inventory but click F1 to access a help screen with the commands).
In conclusion, The Dame Was Loaded is a fairly typical FMV adventure with some good puzzles that offer multiple solutions and routes. That and the multiple endings do offer some replayability value. But the timed sections and limited save opportunities do hinder the gameplay a lot. So, if you’re a mystery and detective noir fan, you might want to give it a shot. It’s currently available on Steam and GOG.com.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and again, I’m sorry for taking so long to write one (I took my time finishing this game). This might very well be the last review of the year (unfortunately, I don’t have any Christmas review planned) but starting next year, I’m planning smaller reviews (so I can write more of them) and a couple of more changes on my future reviews. Until then, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year and don’t forget to grab your fedora hat and keep on playing!