I 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.