Good news and bad. First the bad - new US developed adventure games are few and far between these days (but you knew that). Now the good - a number of other countries (where adventure gaming seems to be more popular) ARE producing quality adventure games.
Produced in Italy - three years in the making - The Watchmaker has been dubbed with English dialog and has recently been released in North America. When I started playing the game, I was struck by its quality. The engine reminded me ofGabriel Knight III, and the game play reminded me a lot of the Tex Murphy games. Since I loved those titles, you can imagine I liked this one from the git-go. The Watchmaker is an epic 3D point and click graphic adventure with many animated cut scenes. The graphics are exceptional, the music average, and the English voice acting is good to poor. But, hey, the game play is right up there with the best of any US produced titles. I was very pleasantly surprised.
The game begins with a lengthy cinematic which takes place in a law office in London. There, our protagonists, Darrel - an expert in parapsychology, and Victoria - an attorney, are briefed on a potential earth shaking situation. Some goons have apparently stolen a dastardly device (a large pendulum with special powers) and human survival may hang in the balance (please excuse the lousy pun). Soon thereafter, the two are whisked off to an Austrian castle where it is believed the stolen device may be hidden. The rest of the game is played in the castle and on the surrounding gated grounds. Easy enough, huh? No way. The castle is very large and it will take you some time to get to know your way around (if you played Shivers, you know what I'm talkin' about). You arrive at the castle at 9am and have until midnight to find the device and foil the fanatics' plans. The game employs a timer, but it is not incremented in real time. It periodically increments the time based on your successful progress in the game. No sweat.
By using the F8 key, you may change characters - from Darrel to Vic or vice versa. When operating independently (which is most of the time), you may summon the other character to your position. It is also possible to exchange inventory items between characters. The inventory system is a delight. When you click on an object, a fully rotatable 3D picture is shown. By clicking on the picture, the character says exactly what it is. Character movement is accomplished by mouse or keyboard. An "automatic" camera is used when in third person play and, although I sometimes got disoriented as to direction, it does an excellent job of providing you with the optimum view. First person mode is invoked by using the space key. Basically, it shows a close-up view (you'll need this for some puzzles). So far as I could tell, the game has no limit on saves. Game play is quite non-linear, and is sometimes very challenging. Dialog trees are used with NPCs and some subjects must be discussed in order to advance the plot or provide access to inventory items. Pixel hunting is sometimes problematic…on a par with most games of this genre. The graphics are really excellent. One thing Trecision threw in that I loved was large mirrors. Your character walks by a large mirror (say in the exercise room) and you see a perfect reflection of the character. It's cool, and speaks volumes of Trecision's desire to produce a quality game.
Okay, now to the bad news. Occasionally during the game, I'd click on an area ahead for character movement and the character would head off somewhere else. GRRRR. One or two clicks later, I'd get the desired movement. Shoot, I can live with that. However, the last 5-10% of the game involves action sequences where the character is dodging hot lead (being shot at). Unfortunately, I found that the problem of character movement became more pronounced during this time. This led to dying every minute or so. Don't you hate it when that happens? For me, character control became nil (read "dead duck").
This is an excellent game and it's a shame that at the very end the characters (for me at least) became virtually uncontrollable. UGH!
So, I guess I'll assign two ratings:
The Watchmaker (patched towards endgame): B+
The Watchmaker (as my copy played): C
Again, it's a shame. I surely hope a patch is shortly forthcoming. If it is, don't miss this game. 95% of it is extremely well crafted and a lot of fun!
Minimum System Requirements:
Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP
Pentium II 266 mhz
64 MB RAM
3D video card with 8MB RAM
150MB free space on hard drive
8X CD-ROM Drive