November 12, 2008
This is going to be one boring review. We already know that the Carol Reed series is a very high quality independent one. What more can be said? The answer is, not much, really. In a nutshell, the people that have enjoyed the previous Carol Reed adventures will love this one too. The game is relatively unchanged from previous entries so anyone who didn’t like the previous games isn’t going to be swayed by this one.
From the outset, there’s a lot to like. That’s not a surprise at all. After three games in the series, creators Mikael and Eleen Nyqvist set about ensuring that future episodes would be as near perfect as they could make them. They set about recruiting adventure-gamer extraordinaire, Len Green, as creative consultant. It’s evident that this was a great move. As an experienced adventure gamer, I can almost hear some of the things he must have suggested. For in this game, all the puzzles make sense!I’m sure to get some hate mail for this, but having attempted to play Sentinel: Descendants in Time just prior to this game, I was thrilled that I didn’t feel like I was wasting my life playing this game. In Sentinel, each puzzle seemed merely a roadblock on my journey to a seemingly endless sequence of irrelevant puzzles. And all this shrouded in psychobabble that didn’t make a lot of sense. Contrary to this, The Colour of Murder is a meat-and-potatoes kind of adventure. It doesn’t seek to be a philosophical dissertation; it just tells an entertaining story. If anything, it’s more like the story-driven adventures of yesteryear such as Dragonsphere, a title I played prior to Sentinel. Anyone new to adventure gaming, try adventures from 1996 and earlier to see what I’m talking about. Then play some of the recent dross. The Colour of Murder is seeking to redress the balance.
Have a look at the screenshots. This is one great looking game. Mikael Nyqvist has a keen eye for interesting framing in the static photos used in the game. I note that he seems to have water colored the pictures less in this game: a lot less. I really liked the Golden Gate effects from earlier games but it’s obvious that water coloring them really does a disservice to the inherent beauty of his photographic work. Incidentally, the Wintermute engine used in this game is a near perfect fit for the structure. Chalk up another fantastically well-designed game to designers using this fantastic free (!) adventure game designing software. The hotspots are well-illustrated-there is no “needle in a haystack” searching here! This is a game that your grandmother would love-the images are crisp and clear and a player need not squint to make out tiny spots where needed items are hidden away.
It may sound strange but, despite this being a murder mystery, this is a game for anyone. It follows in the tradition of Nancy Drew, Jessica Fletcher, and Jane Marple, in that there is never a sense that the sleuth is in any kind of danger. It is inherent in the Carol Reed mysteries that when the murderer is confronted, they will turn themselves in, giving Carol an opportunity to illustrate how she figured it all out. For me, this has always been the weakest part of the Carol Reed series, for the same reason that I don’t like James Bond movies-a suspension of disbelief such that I am at no time engaged to the point that I feel genuine concern. Despite my bias, this is part of the reason that this is so successful. Almost anyone could play this game-a contemplative eight-year old or a serene tea-drinking octogenarian will find mild thrills in the absence of profanity, sexuality, or other “questionable” adult themes.
The game installs completely to the hard drive and is very stable. I didn’t experience any crashes or slowdowns at all. Saving is labored, taking up to 30-40 seconds on occasion. It is not a stretch of the truth to say that I was literally able to fold a few items of laundry while I waited for this painful process. If there were any way that this could be improved for Carol Reed 6, this’d be a terrific enhancement. I found a few glitches in the game-for example, despite not having an item required to open a particular object, I was able to do it! I later acquired the prerequisite item but it made no difference to interaction with the object. Another glitch occurred with the lid of a jar…
Further to my previous comment, this game has a superb introductory “training level”. We all know that every Half-Life clone has a dull-as-dishwater level dedicated to educating players in the basic moves of jumping, ducking, and shooting etc. Experienced adventurers may wonder why a training level would be needed. I say to you, get Aunt Sarah to try the latest Sherlock Holmes adventure-observe her floundering not having a clue how these new-fangled games work! Anyone who has balked at the idea of playing adventure games because they are not computer-literate enough need only acquire The Colour of Murder to make their first foray into the world that you and I, dear reader, know and love. All the basics are covered from inventory management and navigation. Instructions are clear. Five stars for a feature rarely found in adventure games! Hurrah!
Also, for all of us that need to resort to walkthrough, good news! In this adventure, we probably won’t have to for Carol has a notebook that can be consulted for advice or direction for where to go next. Because the game is so logical, 99% of players will solve a brainteaser with one brief notebook access. The advice gleaned from the notebook is clever, too. Rather than stating the obvious, it alludes to what Carol might need to achieve. Further detail is available by clicking on the target goal. I know there are those that claim a built-in system is a no-no for adventure games, but there are an equal number of people clamoring for it. Kudos to MDNA! There’s also a very user-friendly manual on the disk.
Anyhow, enough raving from me. Voice acting is pretty good all round, except that accents are a mixed bag. It’s obvious that our heroine is not English-just listen to the incorrect emphasis on certain words and agrammatical production of her first line. Further to my review of the previous Carol Reed mystery, Time Stand Still, I’d welcome the game to be in Swedish-it’s set in Sweden, after all! But, in the creators’ defense, there are a multitude of miscreants out there that will not consider playing a game in a language other than their native English so it’s in the designers’ monetary interests. In my opinion, it would enhance the sense of immersion of adventuring in another country if characters spoke in Swedish with English subtitles. To me, it’s a little akin to watching a samurai movie with English voiceover-it just feels out of place. To the voice actors’ credit, though, although it is apparent that English is their second language, even in this instance, voice acting is MILES AHEAD of most native English speakers in both independent and professional adventure games. There are a couple of questionable statements that are a little unusual sounding, bordering on the agrammatical such as “I’ve completely forgotten about it”, which I’m surprised that Len Green didn’t comment on but these are minor. Sound effects are clear and professional sounding. Sound effects and music never muffle dialog. The music is moody and conveys a sense of loneliness. It reminded me a lot of the music fromPhantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh, a sense of foreboding and uncertainty in almost every scene, alternatively bleak and uplifting. Wandering around similar lonely environs, the music is highly suited to the game.
One last thing: if you see this on the shelf in your local software emporium, don’t turn your nose up at it. Unfortunately, the artwork on the front and back covers honestly does not do justice to the game at all. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that MDNA has pressed a Carol Reed game professionally. It’s a shame that the printing looks dark and dull-the complete antithesis of the images that await the player in the game.
Anyhow, at the end of the day, this is a very well produced game. Thumbs up, Nyqvists! It’s probably the best one in the series yet, and certainly much better than the anticlimactic ending of Time Stand Still.
One last thing, savor the inadvertently hilarious last line in the game!!
This game does so many things right. It deserves an A.
Final Grade: A