By Jimmy Goldstein |
There have been books, movies, and psychologists before that tried to prove one central point: there is nothing to fear from the dark, because there is nothing in the dark that isn't there in the light. If you're not scared of it when you can see it and know what it is, why then should you be scared of it even if you can't see it?
There's a large hole in that logic though What if whatever is making that noise in the dark simply wasn't there in the light? What if it was laying, hiding, unseen, and only decided to make its presence known when you couldn't see? Do you shrug it off and investigate later, or do you risk trying to find the source of those noises?
Scratches, an adventure game developed by Nucleosys and published by Got Game Entertainment, decides to tackle that very question head-on. The result, ironically, is just what those psychologists were trying to tell us: once you turn on the lights and get down to it, the results tend to be a bit uninteresting.
Obviously it's a complete injustice to give away much of a story in an adventure game, but we'll speak briefly about the setup. You take the role of Michael Arthate, a novelist specializing in horror and mystery. After writing a decent debut novel and getting more than your fair share of attention and profits, you decide to buy an old and abandoned Victorian house in some backwoods village of England. Inside, you hope to find inspiration for the ending of your latest book, one which you trust will launch you into authors' stardom.
Arriving at the mansion, you're surprised to see that the house is in pretty rotten condition. Still, it has an odd allure, and being awfully curious, you begin to poke around and search the house. After leafing through some journals and other materials around the many rooms of the house, you start to realize that some very bizarre events had taken place to the previous owners.
And that's all we'll say about the story's specifics. Adventure games live and die by their narrative. As far as suspense and terror goes, we're happy to report that there's definitely something creepy about your environment. Although we'll elaborate more on the tangible things in a moment, know that the story alone will be enough to keep you on edge for the duration of the game.
Probably the biggest, greatest feature of the story is the absolutely delicious pacing. This isn't an award-winning piece of narrative -- it gets just a tiny bit predictable in places -- but from beginning to end it's a well-written story with essentially two (and only two) strange twists. One of the creepiest things about the narrative is how much it resides in the past rather than the present.
It's a good thing the presentation and story are strong because Scratches is your typical adventure game as far as gameplay is concerned. Click, click, find an item, click, click, figure out how to use that item, click, click. Even saving the game doesn't involve naming your save slot, so you'll never have to touch the keyboard. Although the box may say "non-linear gameplay," the truth is that you have to click certain things at a time. It's only non-linear in the sense that, if you need to click ten things to advance to the next part of the story, you can click those ten things in any order you wish.
The gameplay fully revolves around the story and in trying to determine how all the items you find in-game relate to it. Can item X combine with item Y to make item Z? And then, where does item Z go? In this room, or the first room? Maybe a room you haven't seen yet?
Not all adventure games are created equal, and the problem with most of the bad ones is that the items are illogical, and/or not enough hints are given. Scratches is terrific about this: there is not a single red herring inventory item, and 99% of the puzzles are logic-based more than "click a bunch of times and see what actually works"-based. There's only one puzzle toward the end that reeks a little of pixel-hunting, and even then it's not too bad.
That said, finding inventory items can be a little of a chore. Most items are rather obvious, but some things that seem helpful are not items while some things that seem pointless are necessary. Perhaps slightly for the worse, all items in the game are necessary to complete it (hence no red herrings), but that means some are easy to miss. Also, some items are clearly visible from the beginning, but you won't know they're necessary until late in the game. This leads to a lot of backtracking, which can be annoying.
In fact, perhaps the game's greatest gameplay weakness is, ironically, its setting. You'll never leave the grounds of the mansion, so you'll see the same rooms dozens of times until you're done, especially if you get stuck. There are a few buildings outside the house itself that you'll visit, but you'll only need to visit them each one or two times.