Evidence of What?

evidence.jpgI purchased The Adventure Company’s recent release, Evidence: The Last Ritual with high hopes that it would provide immersive gameplay that would appeal to the ARGer in me. Touted as an adventure/puzzle game, Evidence is a step towards a pre-packaged ARG: there are websites to discover with voluminous content as well as in-game emails that follow your progress through the game.

Boy, are there in-game emails. There are scads of in-game emails. In fact, within 10 hours after registering the game (a necessary step in order to proceed to gameplay), I had received a whopping 28 emails – 25 of those in the first two hours. I eventually got a mail saying, “No news from you for several hours now? Are you ditching us like a pair of old socks, or what? Please, we need your help…” Nothing like a little guilt trip to make me want to pop that game right back in! Most mail was to provide clues, and several times the timing was off so that I would get clues for puzzles I had already solved.

The story behind the game is that there is a serial killer on the prowl, and he has produced this teasing, taunting set of CDs with information and clues about his victims. The CDs contain a lot of well-acted video clips which the player is rewarded with after solving puzzles. The gameplay itself is almost reminiscent of the movies Se7en or Saw, with a gritty, surreal atmosphere. The puzzles range from piece-o-cake easy to insanely difficult, and there are little to no clues about solves in some cases. What I found most difficult at times was actually being able to “catch” the right icon in order to proceed to the next puzzle — the tiny icons bob up and down on the screen, and for those of us with bad reflexes it can be pretty frustrating.

There is a toolbar within the game that allows you to decode scrambled text, magnify portions of the screen, or perform an internet search, among other things. The MSN search is interesting; it attempts to bypass results that contain puzzle solves by adding a bunch of modifiers (as in, “-soluce -soluces -solution -astuces -astuce -walkthrough -games -game -missing”) which show up in the search box after you hit Submit. This is a real slap in the face for immersion, and although the budget might not have allowed a more sophisticated search system (even like the one in Majestic), shrouding those obviously out-of-game search modifiers would have been advantageous and more player-friendly.

As I mentioned before, there are several in-game websites with a lot of information to digest. Some are better-designed than others. In addition to the information sprinkled throughout the game sites, there are also lots of clues in the video clips, requiring vigilance and a keen ear, in some cases.

Unfortunately, my gameplay came to an abrupt halt when I encountered a show-stopping bug on level three. For some reason, during the “Zar-Knum” puzzle the game thinks that I have the mouse button depressed when it is not. Checking the support website indicates that there are no patches available. I spent a good amount of time trying to decide whether it was worth it to me even to pursue a solution. Quite honestly, the game itself did not grab my interest enough to motivate me into contacting tech support. However, I found the video clips compelling, and I have been wondering what happens to the characters. For that reason only, I wrote The Adventure Company this evening to ask them about the bug.

In short, Evidence has some redeeming qualities, but overall I was most wowed with the evidence bag packaging and the nifty little way that the CDs are held in – and that’s a sorry state of affairs, to be more intrigued with the wrapper than what’s inside. I think that the bug probably increased my frustration level beyond repair, but between the flood of emails, the esoteric puzzle solutions, the bobbing icons, and the lack of immersion, I wish that I’d saved the $30 I paid for the game and invested it in – oh, I dunno. Something else. I wanted to like the game, I really did, but in the end, technical glitches got me down.

1 Comment

  1. What a coincidence… I just finished up this game a few days ago. Though I think I walked away a bit more satisfied with the experience.

    I don’t recall that Level 3 glitch at all. Either it didn’t happen for me, or I thought it was part of the game and somehow worked around it.

    At first, I also thought the price was a bit too steep for what is basically several dozen Flash games tied together with QuickTime movies. But once I was through with the game my opinion changed. I’d say that I got about 80-hours of game-play out of it. The graphics and sound affects in the puzzles ranged from surreally pretty to spooky to downright disturbing. In addition, the acting is relatively well-done, the story and production are interesting, and it appears that all of the shoot locations (New York, Vermont, Portugal) are authentic.

    I agree with the point made about the volume of email… there are a lot! They’re intended to add to the perception that you’re unraveling these puzzles in collaboration with several other people. The emails from your “co-investigators” are one of three types: Helpful hints, interesting (though sometimes longwinded) information, and useless blurbs. Occasionally, you’ll get a creepy, little e-taunt from the killer you’re pursuing.

    I also agree with the point about the MSN search engine built into the game’s main web interface. I tried using another engine, but cutting and pasting those modifiers started to get a bit tedious, and it was one more instance of my browser that needed to be running.

    This game is a sequel to The Adventure Company’s “Missing Since January,” which I have not played, so I don’t know if their efforts to make a pre-packaged ARG have improved or not. I will say that I’ve always found Adventure Company games to be hit-or-miss. This one leans heavily towards “hit.” On a 1-to-5 scale, I’d give this game a 3.7. If they can address the few issues that detract from the immersion experience, I think their next effort could be outstanding.

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