Adventure games were not dead, only hidden?
Yesterday I was browsing around the mall with my fiancè, as usual I stopped at the computing isle of a department store and saw XPlane was on sale, I made a comment about this to my girl and how it is the Pro flight simulator and what not, that it was actually nice to see it on sale, etc, when she picked up a case, looked at me deeply surprised and showed me the game case she just picked up, and it was Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened. Reading through the comments on the case, and the minimum system requirements I was amazed it was a "recent" title, but it had one "problem" (in our eyes, at least), it was completely in Spanish**. We bought it regardless. So I set out to see if there might be a way for us to get the game in English instead... Lo and behold, I found this site... And was shocked to see there wasn't only one recent title with this favorite character of ours, but four!!! And apparently as back as 2002 I was shocked. So not only can I (and did I) get the game in English in download form, but also I can get the other three games as well... But I'm getting a bit ahead of my self...
So seeing how recent it was (at the store due to the system requirements) I was dubious it would run in Wine on Linux. So I got home and installed it and crossed my fingers to see what would happen. I was truly amazed and glad to see the game start just fine with all settings on high plus 2xAA/8xAF. I was so excited to get this (to us) obscure Windows-only game to work so well in Wine that then I thought "wouldn't it be nice if we had a native port?" We are lacking more adventure games in all computer platforms (Lin, Win, Mac) is not even funny, especially having been an assiduous adventure gamer back in the nineties with all the classic SCUMM-based adventure games and others (like the Kyrandia series, the Gabriel Knight series or the original Sherlock Holmes adventure games). I know I'd be only dreaming, but it would be awesome if LGP or another Linux gaming studio approached these guys to see if would be possible to make a port of these games.
I'm very pleased with several things about this game:
- For starters the fact that Wine can handle it just fine with all settings on high. Being it a DirectX 9 game I was not really surprised, but I was indeed amazed that it handled it so gracefully that performance-wise is amazing, unlike other titles (such as Half Life 2, that in DirectX 9 mode does run, but lags horribly).
- What would an adventure game be without a good plot behind it? The story is very compelling (thus far, I'm only starting the game, and I'm already hooked!), the narrative and story-telling elements are very well crafted.
- What would an adventure game be without puzzles? And this game has some very good ones! Not illogical puzzles of yester games (such Phantasmagoria 2), but truly logical puzzles that not only are there for the for the gaming element, but also help advance the story and enhance the story telling elements. Very high quality.
- Given its gameplay, this game requires exploration, a LOT of exploration of the environment. Unlike games of years past, clues in this game are "hidden in plain sight", so no pixel-hunting for interactive elements in the environment with a mouse pointer. Instead this game relies much more on observation from the player as interactive elements pretty much pop up as you pan the camera in the area that they are.
- It is not the most visually intensive game I've seen, but is indeed one of the most beautiful and detailed adventure games I've ever seen, some areas even feel flat or as if something is missing, but generally it is visually appealing.
- Gameplay... How would you get the gameplay done in a 3D adventure game? Ever since Anachronox (one of my favorite games of all time), I've always thought its control scheme, camera control and general game play (exploration part, not combat!) would fit perfectly for an adventure game. In this case, instead of a third person perspective the player "sits behind the eyes" of Sherlock or Watson in a first person perspective (a la Oblivion) with the all too familiar WASD controls for forward, strafe-left, backward and strafe-right and mouse-look, This works pretty well and since there is no "point & click" interface, interactive elements within the environment have to be more cleverly disguised. The controls work very well if you are used to first person shooter types of games, but for some new people, it might be a daunting and dizzying experience at first
These are the basic elements that have made thus far for me a very enjoyable experience, and alas there is no native client for these games for Linux, the fact that at least The Awekened (and presumably the others) run so well in Wine opens up the possibility for Linux gamers to experience these amazing games. Plus their price tag is not too steep, and you get to download them off their site directly.
We ran into some problems when at my fiancé's PC we tried to run the game. She "inherited" my old FX5900 graphics card, and for the life of me, I couldn't make the game run, apparently it boils down to the fact that the FX series wasn't fully "DirectX 9 compliant" (as evidenced by other games such as Half Life 2, that even in wine detect these cards as DirectX 8.1 class hardware), which means that the renderer initialization crashes on these cards, while it does not crash with NV 6, 7 and 8 series (I'm currently running it on my 8500GT). This narrows quite a bit the number of people that would play this in Wine on Linux (as a lot of people are still running older graphics hardware), and as soon as I get my laptop and load Linux onto it (X1200 ATi graphics) I'll check for ATi/AMD compatibility with Wine and this title. In the mean time, I guess I'll have to check if there is an AppDB entry for these games or not, and in such a case update it.
Beside the problem with the FX5900 graphics card, which is a show stopper, another minor problem I have not been able to correct is that of the conversations log within the game. To make it easier to remember "who said what", the game logs all conversations of Holmes/Watson and other characters, the problem is that the part of the screen that should show the conversations transcripts has no text. This bumps the difficulty bar a bit as you will have to remember all by yourself past conversations. I'm guessing this is due to a font missing in Wine or some such thing, all other texts in the game work just fine.
This post ran way larger than I had originally expected
**Not that we don't like our language, the problem is that most dubbing for games in Spanish is done in Spain (until fairly recently), imagine a title such as Soldier of Fortune with GB English instead of American... Plus it is always a pleasure to hear the eloquent explanations of Holmes spoken in his British accent