kingandy: (Arthas)
I'm currently playing through Sherlock Holmes Vs Cthulhu (a game whose official name I don't recall). It's quite shit, but I'm sticking with it.

Why is it shit? Well, mostly the scripting. I'm not talking about the dialogue here - though it is fairly lame and re-uses lines to the point where Holmes sounds a shade unimaginative. Or possibly he's wittily back-referencing himself and cleverly demonstrating how the same sentence can apply in vaguely similar circumstances. Anyway, it's not that. That just makes it mediocre.

The scripting that makes it shit is the action-X-triggers-event-Y scripting. The whole game is based around it, and for an investigative game with multiple clues in a fairly large area that becomes frustrating. As an example: While searching a house I came across some muddy footprints and a trail of blood. The game acknowledged there were footprints, and noted there was blood. But until I'd found and clicked om every interactable patch of footprints and/or blood, Holmes would not conclude they were a trail. My first impulse was of course to follow the trail; inside the house it led to the scene of a scuffle and (Holmes assured himself out loud) abduction. Abduction! We must immediately follow the trail out of the house to find the miscreants!

No, in fact, we mustn't. The game has decided this only occurs at the end of the scene, and has therefore blocked the passage with an impenetrable wall of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes, a clue tells me, can be repelled with lemon juice. Ah, here is a lemon tree! I can use these lemons to ... No, no I can't. Holmes is completely uninterested in the lemons until we've opened the safe, entered the trophy room, gone back outside, rescued the maid, questioned her brother and identified the householder's girlfriend. At which point the abductee suddenly becomes crucial, and lemons suddenly become pickable.

In this case the kidnapping was five days previous, so to be fair there was little chance of finding said miscreants; and indeed the trail led only to an empty jetty. This makes it all the more frustrating as there is no particular plot reason why we could not have followed the trail earlier. It was simply that the game had made assumptions (or decisions) about the order in which you would do things and was not prepared to do otherwise.

It's not just the parts where you can't do what you want, either; there are also places where you don't know what they want you to do. Twice thus far the game has transferred control from Holmes to Watson and (once, literally) said "I think you know what to do". I had not a clue and was unable to proceed until I worked out what. Not how - what. It's the worst kind of adventure game, where the game itself is a puzzle rather than a medium for presenting puzzles.

Luckily the game has a built-in "strategy" guide which has helpful headings like "How does Watson water the horse?" Which tells me, without even opening the section, that I am supposed to be watering the horse.[1]

Why, then, am I sticking with it? Because it's Sherlock Holmes versus Cthulhu. Yeah, boys.

[1] Though in fact this one I did figure out myself, because while clicking on everything in the room I hit upon Holmes, who asked, "Well? Have you watered the horse yet?" And I was like, "No, Holmes, I have not, and perhaps if you had suggested that I do so in the first place instead of playing these infernal guessing games then I could have made some progress in that direction, and why do I have to go outside to the fountain, what is wrong with the water in the taps?" And he was like, "Well? Have you watered the horse yet?" And I did, just so we could all move on with our lives.

The horse wasn't even important to the plot, it was just lying on a hammer which we didn't need until three scenes later when we still had full access to the horse. And, of course, you can't water the horse earlier out of simple altruism. That would be too easy.

March 2012

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