The 11th Hour review

Well, it’s Halloween! So, ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night, today we’re going to take a look at the sequel of my very first horror-themed review, The 7th Guest. I’m talking about The 11th Hour.

The 11th Hour is an adventure game developed by Trilobyte and published by Virgin. It was originally released in 1995 for DOS. It was ported to Macintosh in 1997 and re-released by Night Dive Studios in 2013 for Macintosh and Windows.

Graeme Devine, the main designer and programmer, created a new video compression  program called Wavelet and updated the Groovie engine used in The 7th Guest specifically for this game (which would later be used in subsequent Trilobyte titles).

But, as always, before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the covers:

17406-the-11th-hour-dos-front-coverThis is the US cover and apart from the title, which looks cool, it’s a bit of a mess with several clocks, wires and remains of a baby doll. I see where Trilobyte was going for with this, but I find it very confusing.

Luckily, the European version is a bit better:

93203-the-11th-hour-dos-front-coverNow, this one I like better. Yes, I understand if some people find it too simplistic, but the use of the baby doll’s head along with the strings and the colour red in a black background, makes it look more ominous, fitting for a horror-themed game.

And now, as always, let’s boot this child of the night:

The game starts with a long intro cutscene introducing our main characters: Carl Denning, the host of the TV show “Cases Unsolved” and its producer; Robin Morales. The intro starts with Carl watching the news about Robin’s disappearance and the series of unsolved murders she was investigating before disappearing. Carl then receives the GameBook (a PDA-like laptop) by mail with a video in it of Robin asking for help and an image of Stauf’s mansion. Carl then goes to Harley-on-the-Hudson, where Robin was last seen while remembering their last interaction. Carl arrives at Stauf’s mansion and after solving a riddle via the GameBook to open the mansion’s door, the game properly starts.

The 11th Hour, just like its predecessor, uses logical puzzles to advance the story, but with an added element to the gameplay: first you receive a riddle by Stauf in the GameBook referring to any object in the mansion, then you have to find and interact with said object to solve the riddle, but every time you enter a new room, you can’t interact with any object whatsoever until you solve the puzzle located in said room in order to “unlock” the objects and the rest of the room. And there’s also a lot of “red herring” objects you can interact with.

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The beginning of the intro featuring our hero, Carl Denning, played by Douglas O’Keeffe.

And every time you solve a riddle, you’re awarded a short cutscene, usually depicting Robin’s investigation before her disappearance (later in the game, they also show Carl’s adventure in the mansion). The game’s story is divided in acts (represented by each passing hour), in which at the end of each act, a longer cutscene plays (including the smaller cutscenes you’ve “collected”) that advances the story along.

To help you, you have the aforementioned GameBook, which substitutes the Ouija board from the last game as the in-game menu. In it, you can save and load and you’ll also have access to a map (and although the mansion’s layout is still the same, it’s good to know which rooms are accessible and which puzzles remain unsolved or not) and a help button that substitutes the library book from the last game. The first two times you click in it, it gives you hints to the puzzle or riddle you’re solving and the third time, it solves the puzzle or riddle for you (although you still have to search for and interact with the objects to solve the riddles). But this time, however, there’s no penalty whatsoever in using the help feature to solve the puzzles and riddles. But you can’t use it to solve the last puzzle (which we’ll talk about later on).

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Looks familiar?

The riddles usually use anagrams and if you’re bad with anagrams (like I am) then it’s a good thing there’s the GameBook. And the new puzzles are even harder than in the previous game. Remember the dreaded microscope puzzle in The 7th Guest? Guess what. It’s back with a vengeance! AND IT’S NOT EVEN THE HARDEST PUZZLE IN THE GAME NOW! Maybe that’s why there’s no penalty in using the help feature to bypass the puzzles. And, as always, Stauf taunts you throughout the game, especially if you fail a puzzle or riddle. And again as always, his taunts get old fast due to repetition.

The cutscenes are now longer (sometimes a bit too long) and of a much better quality than The 7th Guest. Robert Hirshboeck (Henry Stauf), Julia Tucker (Julia Heine), Larry Roher (Ed Knox) and the late Debra Ritz Mason (Martine Burden) are back to reprise their roles and Hirshboeck again turns the ham all the up to eleven while playing Stauf, whether it’s live-action or just voiceover. The new actors, however, aren’t as memorable. Although some of them are renowned TV actors, their performance ranges from bad to acceptable, with some good moments here and there.

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The GameBook with one of the riddles displayed.

The story is now darker with some gore and one or two adult scenes here and there; and for the most part; it isn’t that bad. But halfway through, Trilobyte throws at us some poorly plot points added only for shock value. And the production value, although better than in The 7th Guest, is equal to a 90s suspense TV series. Honestly, I had more fun with the puzzles than I had watching the cutscenes. And also, all the dark zany humour present in the previous game is now mostly gone, with a few moments here and there with Stauf.

The new 16-bit graphics are definitely an improvement, with much better detail. But since the game now occurs in the 90s, the mansion is rundown and debilitated, which means that although the graphical quality is better, the game isn’t prettier which ruins the atmosphere in my opinion. If the intent was to make the game more visually scary, then it failed that purpose, even if you play it in “spooky mode” (just the game in faded black and white). And also, there’s a lot of visual references to The 7th Guest (in case we forget we’re playing a sequel to it) and even one small reference to another famous FMV adventure game of the time.

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One of the several puzzles for you to solve.

Which leads us to the animation. The animation, again, is better in terms of graphical quality but now with some top-quality special effects (well, top quality for the time, that is). There’s no longer weird auras around the actors (which prompted The 7th Guest becoming a ghost-story in the first place), but there’s still some pretty obvious green screen effects (it was kind of new at the time). I have to say that the animation is actually one of the best parts in the game.

Now in terms of music, George “The Fatman” Sanger is back as the main composer and not only does he brings remixes of the previous game’s musical score but also some new themes, which in their majority aren’t as good. With the exception of “Mr. Death”, the main menu theme, which is quite catchy. Also, instead of taking advantage of the new technologies to improve the music quality to CD audio, Trilobyte released the music in MIDI format, which was kind of outdated by 1995’s CD-ROM standards.

Which brings us, finally,  to the end of the game and before discussing it, here’s your spoiler alert:

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Without revealing too much, the game now has three endings to choose from, ranging from good, to bad, to worst. However, there’s a small detail: you can only save the game right before the final riddle and the final puzzle. And after choosing one of the endings, if you reload your save file in order to see the other endings, you obviously need to solve the final puzzle again. But here’s the catch: the final puzzle gets harder the more endings you unlock and the previous solution to it no longer works. So you might want to get the best ending first.

Ok, spoilers over!

So, in conclusion, The 11th Hour is technically bigger and better in comparison with its predecessor, but it fails to provide a proper scary atmosphere and therefore, it lacks  the previous game’s charm. And due to the order of the riddles and fact that the game is divided in acts, it’s also a bit more linear than the previous game. If you’re a The 7th Guest fan or simply enjoy logic puzzles and riddles, then you might want to give it a shot. But for traditional adventure games fans, I can’t really recommend it. If you want to play it though, you can buy it here on Steam.

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The library in spooky mode.

Before wrapping up the review, here’s a few curious tidbits: The 11th Hour is definitely a mature game, but did you know it was supposed to be even more adult? R-rated sex scenes were planned, which prompt the rumour of an uncut and uncensored version of the game, but said scenes were never filmed. However, the script for the R-rated version can be found on the official strategy guide (and in the digital versions).

And like its predecessor, The 11th Hour had a great commercial success, selling around 300,000 copies in the US alone, despite the mixed reviews it received. Trilobyte would later make a compilation of some of the puzzles found in both games (along with some from another title, Clandestiny) in Uncle Henry’s Playhouse.

Also, there have been several attempts to crowdfund either a third game in the series or a remake of The 7th Guest, but all have failed until now. There’s a successful Kickstarter project called The 13th Doll, which is planned for release between late 2018 and early 2019. And from what I gathered, it’s more of a reboot/remake of The 7th Guest than an actual sequel, so who knows if it’ll even reference The 11th Hour.

Ufff! I thought that would never end! So, ghosts, goblins and other things that go bump in the night, I hope you all enjoyed the review. And wish you all a happy and scary Halloween, WHATEVER YOU ARE! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Mean Streets review

And again we’re taking a look at a game series, that like many others, started in the 80s or 90s (80s in this particular case), still continues to this day and became famous around its 3rd entry. But this time, it features perhaps the most famous private detective in computer gaming: Tex Murphy. I’m obviously talking about Mean Streets.

Mean Streets is an adventure game made by Access Software and originally released in 1989 for the Commodore 64 and DOS. It was ported the next year (in Europe only) for the Amiga and Atari ST. And it was re-released in 2014 for Windows, Macintosh and Linux by Night Dive Studios under the title Tex Murphy: Mean Streets.

But as always, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?

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I love this cover! It’s very reminiscent of the original Blade Runner movie poster, with a shot of Chris Jones (the designer and face of Tex Murphy throughout the entire series) holding a gun over a shot of a futuristic city and another shot of the love interest.

But however, the European release had this interesting cover:

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Where to begin? First, both the title and the art style definitely has an European urban sci-fi look, like taken from a Métal Hurlant magazine. Second, the characters depicted here look nothing like the game’s main characters. While the woman resembles one of the lesser known female characters in the game, the man resembles more like Conrad B. Hart, the protagonist of Delphine Software’s Flashback. And third, while the background is undoubtedly futuristic, it looks nothing like the entire series’ dystopian look. Overall, it’s a good cover, but as you’ll find out soon, it has little to do with the game.

But, it’s finally time to boot this sucker:

As you can read in the short intro text (or more detailed in the manual), you play as Tex Murphy, a down-on-his-luck private detective living in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, in the distant year of 2033. You’ve been hired by Sylvia Linsky (the blonde woman depicted in the cover and title screen) to investigate her father’s suicide, of which she suspects of being murdered. Of course, the story spirals into something a lot bigger than a simple scientist’s death.

Right from the start, you’ll notice that Mean Streets isn’t a traditional adventure game, but more like a mix of different genres. First, we have a flight simulator section (taken from another Access game, Echelon), where you take control of your speeder flying car and travel through the game’s various locations in California, but you can only land in landing pads. The controls aren’t too complicated and the speeder is indestructible, so there’s no risk of dying in this section. However, you don’t actually need to control the speeder itself, because you can simply introduce the nav codes in the navigational screen and press “a” for the auto-pilot to take you there. This section occupies more or less 80% of the game and travelling greater distances can be somewhat boring. And also is the only part in the game where you can access the inventory and the save and load screens. You can also contact Vanessa, your secretary and Lee Chin, your informant, which brings us to the next section of the game.

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Well, is good to know that the Golden Gate bridge won’t be destroyed in the future.

Then we have the interrogation section, where you’ll interview the several characters in the game. You can ask them about other characters and locations by typing them perfectly (the game doesn’t recognise badly written words) and they’ll answer if they’re familiar with it. But sometimes they’re not willing to talk and then you have the option to either bribe them with money or threaten their physical integrity. But only one of these two options will work because you’ll find characters, that when uncooperative, can only be bribed or threatened. Then after one of the options,they’ll reveal new information, like a name or if you’re lucky, a nav code for a new location to explore, which brings us to the next two sections.

When arriving at a new location, sometimes you need to pass an shooting section, where you’ll take full control of Tex and have to cross two screens from left to right, shooting infinite mooks (that look the same, there are only be two at a time and are apparently made of glass by the way they shatter when shot). Tex can duck to avoid the bullets and use the several obstacles to his advantage, although it’s easy to get stuck behind one while bullets whizz above him. The several shooting sections can range from easy to hard, depending on your skill. The secret in passing through them consists in timely dodges and pressing on.

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I love this screen.

After the shooting sections, you’ll reach the search section, the closest to an actual graphic adventure. In here, you again take full control of Tex, but this time, you only need to explore one screen where you’ll first need to walk to several places inside the room, like a table, a TV or a sofa, then click “Enter” to access a menu of several options. Then you can search through the several locations, open drawers, move objects or get items. The only complaints I have in this section is that; there’s no point and click interface, so you’ll need to do everything using your keyboard; you can’t access your inventory (in fact, any objects in your possession are used automatically when needed) and sometimes, if there’s an object inside a small box and if you get the box before opening it, you’ll get the object inside stored in your inventory, but you need to get back to your speeder to access your inventory and examine the new object there or even to know you got said object. Also sometimes, you can trigger an alarm that gives you a limited time to find and turn it off in order to continue the search or leave the area. And the alarm resets everytime you leave the area.

And apart from all this, you have limited money and ammunition. But you can always find more ammunition, money and objects that you can pawn for more money in the several search areas. But you need to be careful when pawning objects, because there are some obvious valuables that can be pawned freely (like diamonds, necklaces, etc.) but if you pawn an object that you might need later in the game, you have to buy it back for double the cash it was pawned off. Or you can collect bounties on several criminals, whose map coordinates can be found on the manual that takes you to harder shooting sections. And the money is only used for bribes (or to buy back some important object you accidentally pawned off), especially when dealing with Lee, as she’s an invaluable source of information but only gives said information when paid.

929-mean-streets-dos-screenshot-flying

The somewhat boring flying section.

But that’s the game’s mechanics. How is the rest of game, you ask? Well, apart from being one of the first games to introduce VGA graphics, it also features Real Sound, which could produce small digitised speech bytes through a PC speaker. Yes, really! And it isn’t badly garbled nonsense, it’s actually quality digitised speech, albeit small samples. But the rest of the sound effects are of equal quality, from the sound of the speeder’s engine to the sound of the shots in the shooting sections. Unfortunately there’s only one musical theme in the game but it’s actually a good one, in my opinion.

But back to the graphics, the game features some nice backgrounds, still images (albeit it repeats the latter a bit much for my liking) and some digitised photos of the several characters you’ll meet in the game, including the mutants, with some gruesome visuals. The only complaints I have about the graphics is that Tex’s sprite is a bit EGA when playing in VGA. It stands out in both the shooting and the search sections. And the animation’s a bit jerky.

931-mean-streets-dos-screenshot-talking-with-sylvia

Talking to our client, Sylvia Linsky.

But for me, the best part of the game, it’s its story and characters. I love how the plot gets increasingly more and more complex and interesting as you play along and the majority of the characters are equally interesting, despite some red herrings and dead ends your investigation can run across. Still, I recommend reading the manual before starting the game, just to get your bearings and know where to start. And another thing: near the end, when you think you know the entire story, it still throws a good twist at you. Also, this game introduces a bit of the comedy that the series would be known for.

So in conclusion, Mean Streets is a worthy introduction to the Tex Murphy series, albeit it doesn’t know which genre wants to be, unlike its sequels, which are proper graphic adventures. And if you personally don’t enjoy flight simulators, you might not like it. Still, if you’re a Tex Murphy fan, then I recommend it.

935-mean-streets-dos-screenshot-an-action-sequence

The shooting section.

Mean Streets was remade in the fifth titles of the series, Overseer, but it’ll get its own review later on for two reasons: first, in Overseer, the events of Mean Streets are told through flashbacks to characters that were introduced in previous titles and second, it uses game mechanics that were introduced in the third game of the series, Under A Killing Moon.

So, where can you get this awesome game? well, you can get it here at Steam or you can get here at GOG.com bundled with the second game of the series, Martian Memorandum. And if you’re looking for more stuff about the game, then you can go here to the unofficial website and get all sorts of goodies, like save states or a mod that lets you skip the flying sections.

So, do you like the Tex Murphy series? If so, what’s your favourite titles of the series? tell me by commenting below, in our Facebook page, our Twitter feed or on our new Steam group. See you all next time and until then, keep on playing!

Alone in the Dark review

Welcome ghouls, ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, to our Halloween special review. And this evening, we’re going to take a look at the game that built the foundations of the survival horror genre: Alone in the Dark.

Alone in the Dark is an action-adventure game made by Infogrames and originally released in 1992 for DOS. It was re-released the following year in CD-ROM format and ported to the FM Towns and PC-98 computers. It was also ported in 1994 to Macintosh and 3DO and the following year to the Acorn 32-bit computer. And in 2014 it was released for iOS.

Alone in the Dark came to life when French developer Infogrames decided to do an horror-themed game using the new 3D graphics and animation of the time. Unfortunately, animating an entire mansion in 3D wasn’t possible, so the designers decided to just animate the characters and the objects in a prerendered 2D background, which forced the use of fixed camera positions. The team also decided to use the haunted mansion trope as their horror setting since it’s a well established classic, but this time combined with Lovecraftian horror elements.

But before we continue with the game itself, let’s look at these horrible visages, shall we?

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This is the most well-known cover of the game and I have to confess, it’s quite good, giving a proper eerie atmosphere.

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This an alternate cover, released only in Europe. It’s less colorful and detailed than the previous one, but it’s still quite eerie.

But time has come, children of the night, to boot this horror into our systems:

But before playing the game , I recommend reading the newspaper that comes with it, which not only presents you the background story, but it also helps you immerse in the 1920s atmosphere, although the text presented in the character selection is enough as a background story. Basically the story is that Jeremy Hartwood, an artist living in Louisiana, was found hanged in the loft of his mansion Derceto. The police consider the cause of death to be suicide and of course, we all know there’s more than meets the eye.

You can choose between two characters: Emily Hartwood, Jeremy’s niece, who doesn’t believe her uncle committed suicide but believes he left a note for her in his old piano. Or Edward Carnby, a down-in-his-luck private detective, who was hired by an antique dealer to find the aforementioned piano. The intro shows either character arriving at Derceto and heading to the loft, where then the game properly starts. I recommend acting fast when you start because if you take too long, two monsters will enter the loft to confront you and although they’re easy to defeat, it’s best to block their way in.

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“Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring.”

The game uses tank controls to control the character, which I personally don’t like and although they’re somewhat responsive, the animation is too slow. Luckily, the monsters also move slowly (and some even slower than you), so you’ll never be outrun or outpaced by any of them. Also, the game’s mechanics and controls are quite intuitive, so you’ll have no time getting used to them (it depends on your experience with tank controls, though). And as far as I can tell, there’s no gameplay difference between both characters.

Another aspect that becomes immediately apparent is the fixed camera views, which range from adequate to horrible. The perspective changes from one screen to another which can mess up the gameplay (especially if your character is running). Also, some camera angles are weird and although it might improve the atmosphere, it makes the game unnecessarily harder, like getting stuck behind a wall or fighting enemies that are just outside the camera view, among others.

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Who do you choose to face the horrors of the night?

The inventory screen shows your health, the actions you can perform and the objects you carry. However, unlike graphic adventures, you have limited inventory space in which you can only carry objects until reaching a weight limit. Unless specified otherwise, usually the bigger the object, the heavier it is. Luckily, you can drop objects and pick them up later and apart from weapons, most objects only have one use, so after using them in a specific puzzle, you can drop them to pick up other objects. And if for some reason, you need to pick up an object you dropped earlier, you can always backtrack for it. It makes the gameplay harder and more confusing but more realistic.

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Inside the loft.

There are four type of objects you can pick up and use: weapons (and ammo for the ranged ones), objects to be used in puzzles, books and parchments that contain the game’s plot and hints to solve the puzzles or how to defeat certain monsters, and health objects (potions or food). However, there are also some red-herrings (objects that have no use whatsoever or are dangerous to use). There’s also a reduced number of ammo and health potions, so you need to know when using them for maximum effectiveness.

The puzzles are somewhat hard to solve due to the small amount of hints and you’ll be forced to resort to trail-and-error in order to solve them. Some of them are typical adventure puzzles (using objects to get other objects or to gain access to new areas) while others are used to bypass or defeat a special monster (because not all monsters can be easily defeated by combat). However, the first half of the game is more puzzle-driven, while the second half is more action-oriented (which I’ll talk about later on).

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The inventory and status screen.

The game presents great sound effects, especially the screams when your character is hit by a monster or every step you take and every creak when you open a door, which contributes to the eerie atmosphere of the game. But the voice-over acting it’s average at best, although some over-the-top delivery can be quite entertaining. However, the soundtrack by Philippe Vachey is superb but it only appears in certain moments, which is a good point, because the silence works in favor of the overall atmosphere. In fact, the music is the only hint you have when a monster suddenly appears.

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Fighting a weird looking monster. Honestly, it looks like a featherless giant chicken.

But unfortunately, for me, the worst part of the game are the graphics. Yes, I know this is a 1992 game, but early 3D polygons have aged terribly. Although the backgrounds and the colors look good (especially in the latter areas), the texture of the characters and the monsters look terrible. All the monsters look more funny than scary (especially the bird-like monsters at the beginning). And the lack of shadows doesn’t help either although I do love the game-over screen.

But to properly continue the review, one has to peel back the nice cover to reveal the ugly truth behind it. In other words:

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Like I mentioned before, the first half of the games has more puzzles while the second half (after gaining access to the underground caves) is more action-oriented with some platforming. You even get a new action (jump) for said platforming. However, the moment you enter the caves you can’t go back the same way, so I recommend making sure you have all the objects, weapons and ammo necessary to finish the game.

And talking about the platforming, the camera perspectives make it very difficult to properly land the jumps and although you won’t die if you miss a jump, it won’t be easy getting to where you were initially. Also another small hint: avoid the water as long as possible. And to finish the spoilers, don’t think for a second that the game ends the moment you defeat the villain.

OK, spoilers over. Back to the proper review.

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The gruesome game-over screen.

So in conclusion, if you can get past the tank controls, the camera angles and outdated graphics, Alone in the Dark can be an enjoyable experience for Halloween. And despite its flaws, the designers did their best in delivering a proper horror atmosphere that will invoke tension and fear in opening a single door because you never know what awaits in every new room or area. So, give it a shot, you won’t be sorry.

Unfortunately, I can’t make a comparison with the other versions because I haven’t played them. Neither have I played the modern rebooted series (that started with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare), which inspired the infamous Uwe Boll movie (which unfortunately I did see).

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There aren’t many, but you’ll need every one of these…

Alone in the Dark had a tremendous success and was planned to be the first game of the Virtual Dreams series, but Infogrames decided instead to make a franchise based on it. However, it did unofficially became part of the Call of Cthulhu series, whose titles are referenced in the game (although they’re graphic adventures instead). But Alone in the Dark’s biggest contribution was its game mechanics (little ammo, health items and hints) and scary atmosphere, which inspired Capcom’s Resident Evil and the consequent survival horror genre.

So, where can you get your hands or claws or whatever on it? You can buy the entire original trilogy here on Steam or on GOG.com.

So, children of the night, did you enjoyed this review or Halloween in general? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook and Twitter. Join me again next time and remember, keep on playing, whatever you are HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!