Friday, December 21, 2012

ResidualVM Stable Release Supports Grim Fandango

ResidualVM, the interpreter that allows users to play 3D adventure games on modern PCs, has reached a major milestone. After 9 years of development, the first stable release is here, with full support for Grim Fandango. The stable build, version 0.1.0, is available to download for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Walking Dead Out At Retail in North America

Telltale's The Walking Dead have been released at retail today with all five episodes on disc on the Xbox and PlayStation 3, at places like Amazon and GameStop.

Best Buy also has a Windows retail version available.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Benoît Sokal's Syberia III To Be Released 2014-2015

Following the news that Dreamfall Chapters is back on with the series creator on board, another MIA adventure game series is back on track as well.

Syberia III, which was originally announced three years ago, is now in development with series creator Benoît Sokal writing the game as well as serving as art director. Elliot Grassiano, the founder of Microïds, will oversee production.

Nothing is known about the game, other than the fact that it is "another Kate Walker adventure". Syberia III is expected to be released on multiple, unannounced platforms, in either 2014 or 2015.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Stuffing Bundle bundles 4 Adventure Episodes

Indie Royale's Stuffing Bundle is on now. It includes seven games, including the adventure game The Dream Machine chapters 1-3 and the adventure puzzle game Puzzle Agent 2. It also includes Children of the Nile: Enhanced Edition, Anomaly: Warzone Earth and Adventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery.

All of these games are available for the current minimum of $5.30 USD.  If you pay more than $8, you'll also get the music album Tree of Knowledge by yogurtbox.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Walking Dead Episode 5: No Time Left Is Out

The final episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead, No Time Left, is out now on the PlayStation 3 through the PlayStation Network, Xbox 360 through Xbox Live Arcade, PC, Mac, and even iOS.

Additionally, all five episodes will be released on disc at retail stores for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in North America on December 5th.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Double Fine Amnesia Fortnight Humble Bundle

The Double Fine Amnesia Fortnight process is going on again this year, only this time they are making the whole process public through a Humble Bundle. If you pay a minimum of $1, you'll get to vote on which game pitches Double Fine will turn into prototypes. There are all kinds of game styles available to choose from in the pitches, from puzzle games, to platformers, to action adventures, and even a text adventure!  The four pitches with the highest number of votes will be made into prototypes in a two week period.

Everyone who donates $1 or more will get access to the four chosen prototypes and also get downloads of two prototypes from the first Amnesia Fortnight that were made into games: Happy Song (which became Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster) and Costume Quest.

If you donate more than the average (currently at just under $7 USD), you will also get a prototype of Brazen, a Monster Hunter inspired game with Ray Harryhausen inspired stop motion animation.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Shadowgate Remake Is On Kickstarter

The Shadowgate Kickstarter is a project to update the classic 1987 adventure game that started on Mac and was ported from everything to PC to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The update will give the game a high definition update, with hi-res hand-painted artwork, environmental animations, intuitive command-based interface, two different soundtrack modes, an in-game hint system, and new puzzles.

The game is being handled by Zojoi, a company founded by former ICOM employees (the creators of Shadowgate), and includes the co-designer of Shadowgate, David Marsh.  The Kickstarter is only seeking funding of $120,000 and is currently at around 75% funded at just over $87,000 with 7 days left to go.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Paper Mario Sticker Star is Out Now on Nintendo 3DS

Paper Mario Sticker Star was called Paper Mario meets LucasArts adventure game by Siliconera. Intrigued, I have decided to cover the game here. I don't have a Nintendo 3DS yet, but I'll definitely review it once I do. 

Those who do own a Nintendo 3DS can pick the game up now in North America. It will be out in other territories next month.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dreamfall Chapters is Finally In Pre-Production

Dreamfall Chapters, the sequel to Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, is finally in pre-production after being announced in 2007.  Instead of being developed internally by Funcom, Dreamfall Chapters is being developed by Red Thread Games, a studio formed by series developer Ragnar Tørnquist.

According to the press release, the rights are still owned by Funcom, they have just been licensed to Red Thread Games to "independently fund and produce the sequel to Dreamfall". Mr. Tørnquist revealed that $175,000 of the pre-production funding will come from the Norwegian Film Institute.

An interview of Ragnar Tørnquist by Eurogamer revealed that it will be a single player adventure for PC and Mac. It won't be point-and-click, it's going to be a 3D, direct controlled third person game. Dreamfall Chapters will also eventually head to Kickstarter for funding. According to Tørnquist, "We could go to investors, we could go to publishers, but that's going to tie our hands a quite a bit. If we're going to make the game we want and that everyone else wants, the only way to do that is to basically have the freedom we need, and Kickstarter is a lot about freedom." The grant money and the studio's own funding will be used to get the project going, so that the Kickstarter project will hold more weight.

"Dreamfall Chapters is going to be a reasonably large game, it's going to be a reasonably long game and it's going to be a polished game. It's going to be a game that reflects the brand and the universe."

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chaos on Deponia is Out Now in English

Chaos on Deponia, the sequel to Daedalic's cult hit Deponia, is out now in English on download services for Windows and Mac.  In the game, Rufus claims to have been reformed of most of his destructive traits, and is desperately seeking to get off of the garbage planet Deponia.  Unfortunately, he accidentally splits Goal's mind and must work towards getting her three sides back together again.

The English version is only available digitally, and is available on, GamersGate, and Steam.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hero-U By Quest for Glory Creators Is On Kickstarter

The Hero-U Road to Redemption Kickstarter is the lastest crowd funding effort by a popular former adventure game designer. This time it's a project by Lori and Corey Cole, the creators of Sierra's Quest for Glory series. The new project is a 2D RPG adventure hybrid, which is more the style of RPG games than the adventure style of the original four Quest for Glory games. It's to be co-developed by Brawsome, the creator of the adventure game Jolly Rover and the RPG/puzzle hybrid MacGuffin's Curese.

Like the other adventure kickstarters, there are different tiers to choose from with different rewards including a collector's box version at the $150 USD tier. The kickstarter ends in 11 days, and they're currently at just over half of their $400,000 USD goal.

The Journey Down On

IndieGameStand now has chapter one of The Journey Down available in a pay-what-you want deal. This game is excellent (see my review for more about it). If you haven't picked it up yet, do so now. You won't regret it.

The Walking Dead Episode 4 out on iOS

The Walking Dead is finally caught up to the other versions. Episode 4 was released for iOS yesterday (and the iOS version of episode 3 was released on October 18th). The game can be purchased in a multipack or as a single episode inside of the application.

Episode 5 should also be coming out soon for PC, Mac, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network.  No concrete release date has been given for Episode 5: No Time Yet yet, other than that it will release in November.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ben Jordan: The Sorceress of Smailholm Review

Ben Jordan's cases keep getting bigger and more challenging. The same holds true for the experience had by the player as well. The third case, The Sorceress of Smailholm, is certainly both those things, and a lot more.

The game follows Ben's first case outside of the United States.  He receives a call from a man from a small town in Scotland.  His two daughters have been murdered, and it's believed that witches were involved.  Ben once again meets an eclectic group of characters, including, for the first time, someone who is actively working against Ben because he doesn't believe in the paranormal.

As this game was created after the deluxe versions of the first two cases, and since this game doesn't have a deluxe version, there are some noticeable differences here.  The biggest difference is the lack of speech.  The game is presented entirely in the fashion of the first two games with the speech pack disabled.  The text depicting the speech of the characters is presented next to close up portraits of the characters in question.  The description text is presented in a black box in the middle of the screen.  The second most noticeable difference is in the character's portraits.  Instead of being designed somewhere in between cartoonish and realistic, the character portraits are heavily cartoonish.  Somewhat surprisingly, they still do fit in with the realistic style of the background art, but they are a bit jarring if you're used to the deluxe versions of the first two cases.  The other differences are more minor, from the different art of the icons, to the sound effect that is used when you gain points.  The latter is specific to the monsters of the case Ben's working on, rather than the growl sound effect used in the deluxe version of the first two cases.

The presentation has improved upon even the deluxe versions of the first two games in other ways.  The start of the game is presented with a cutscene, complete with credits, instead of just starting with Ben at the telephone receiving a case.  The latter is still there, but it acts as an after-credits sequence rather than the intro.  It's a more theatrical approach, and fits well, considering that the over-arching storyline of the series seems to be picking up steam here.  The music is also given a similar uplifting treatment.  It is also presented in a more theatrical style, with an almost orchestral feel.  The theatrical feel also extends to the closing credits, and ends with a note on how Ben feels about the case.  There are two different endings, depending on a condition near the middle of the game.  They could be considered "bad" and "good" endings, as one ending leaves questions unanswered and doesn't give the optimum amount of points available.  However, neither ending dramatically changes the final outcome of the game.

The game's puzzles have been improved upon as well. The puzzles are more challenging this time, and harken back to the Sierra games of the 1990's even more so than previous installments. Despite the challenge factor, they are still quite fun. There is one puzzle in particular that can be solved using the game's manual (found in the installation directory). This kind of puzzle solving has been fazed out over time, but it's still fun if done right. Thankfully, Sorceress of Smailholm does just that, as the use of the manual is completely optional.

Ben Jordan's cases keep getting better as they go on.  That once again rings true with The Sorceress of Smailholm.  As the game never received a deluxe version, there is no voice acting this time around, and there are noticeable differences in the art style.  This is offset by the improvements in the presentation of the rest of the game's aspects.  The storyline is bigger than before, and it is much more interesting as well.  The characters are much less one dimensional now, and the villains are more cunning than before.  The music and cutscenes are presented in a much more theatrical feel, adding to the bigger feeling of the scope of the game compared to earlier cases.  Despite the lack of voice acting, Ben Jordan Case 3 is truly the best yet, which is impressive in a series where each game has a place among the best free adventure games I've played.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Han Solo Adventures Demo is Available

Update January 14, 2014: The game's website is now dead, but the game is not. Stacy Davidson clarified that he killed the website because he'd rather have the game fly under the radar by developing it quietly and then releasing it when it's done, in order to avoid the legal department of Disney. The new link to the demo can be found at this thread on his game development company's forums.

D'oh! I posted this on Mixnmojo, but forgot to post about this here. With all of the hullabaloo about LucasArts recently, now is as good a time to post about this as any (although it's unclear what the fate of this game will be now that LucasArts is owned by Disney, which likes to keep its intellectual property on a tight leash).

This summer, Han Solo Adventures, the Star Wars fan game that is being created to emulate the style of LucasArts adventure games (in particular Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis), received its first playable demo.  It's a short three room demo made with Adventure Game Studio that contains many references to the Star Wars films and LucasArts adventure games.

Disney Purchases LucasArts

Disney has acquired Lucasfilm, and by extension LucasArts. The famed former adventure game developer is now under the House of Mouse, specifically Disney Interactive Studios. But, according to a LucasArts spokesperson, things aren't likely to change at LucasArts, at least not in the foreseeable future. "For the time being, all projects are business as usual". So, LucasArts' meager selection of their adventure game classics is likely to remain on Steam, at least for now.

The word is still out on what this means for the licensing of LucasArts properties, however. Disney CEO Robert Iger has stated an intent to license the LucasArts properties out on consoles. "We'll look opportunistically at console, most likely in licensing rather than publishing, but we think that given the nature of these characters and how well known they are, and the storytelling, that they lend themselves quite nicely, as they've already demonstrated to the other platforms." He was referring to the Lucasfilm licenses rather than the original LucasArts intellectual property, but it's possible companies like Telltale might now be able to work up a dialog with studio heads in terms of licensing their adventure properties.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Point-and-Click Adventure Mega Review: Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion was the first adventure game by Lucasfilm Games to use their famous SCUMM engine, which was in fact named after this game (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion).  Since 2012 is the 25th anniversary of the game and the engine, I thought it would be a perfect time to review this game. Like the other mega reviews on this site, this review will cover every different version of the game available and will recommend which version of the game to play.

Unlike later adventure games, Maniac Mansion doesn't have much text. Most of the game's story comes through the cutscenes that will play sporadically throughout the adventure. Unlike later LucasArts adventures, there is no "look" verb. Instead, there is a "read" verb, which limits the number of descriptions that will be shown. This is different in the fan-made Maniac Mansion Deluxe, as they use the Day of the Tentacle verb system, which does include "look". As such, they have added a lot of item descriptions to the game. The lack of inventory descriptions, personally, doesn't bother me, but your opinion may differ.

The game's strengths come in its set of quirky characters and its ability to choose a team of teenagers as player characters. The game has a B-movie monster vibe, with a mad scientist kidnapping a cheerleader, and a group of teenagers going into a spooky mansion to save her. The mad scientist has a family consisting of a son and a wife, who will lock you in the dungeon if they catch you. They are just as quirky as the mad scientist himself. The teenagers are chosen in teams of three. The cheerleader's boyfriend is always on the team, so you have the option to choose two other characters to accompany him. Each of the characters has their own abilities, which can be used on various objects in the game in order to achieve your goal. Since there are multiple different ways to get to the end, there are multiple endings. The Nintendo Entertainment System version adds one additional ending over the others, which will be available if the player eliminates the ability to achieve another possible ending.

There is mild swearing as well as sexual overtones in the game, which lend well to the game's B-movie roots. Both DOS versions, the AtariST version, the Amiga version, and the Mac OS version (which uses the data files of the original DOS version) are slightly censored over the Commodore 64 and Apple II original, editing a swear word at the game's finale into a more family-friendly version. The NES version goes even further, censoring out all of the swearing and sexual overtones. The European NES version also edits out a puzzle that will lead to the death of one of the characters.

Unlike most LucasArts adventure games, all of the versions of Maniac Mansion have the ability to die. The fan-made Maniac Mansion Deluxe removes the possibility of a dead-end through a character's death by having the option to transfer the dead character's inventory to another character (an ability that is not present in the official versions of the game). This version also fixes many other dead ends, however, not all of them. It is still possible to kill off all three characters, resulting in a game over, as well as killing off every character with an ability that is needed to reach the ending, resulting in a dead end.

The NES version and fan-made deluxe version also add music to the game. The fan-made deluxe version also slims the verb interface to one resembling Day of the Tentacle, adds comments to many of the objects in the game, adds an icon-based inventory, and removes many of the dead ends (although dead ends and game overs are still possible).  However, I still recommend the NES version over the fan-made deluxe version because of the music.  The deluxe version omits the excellently creepy Edison theme song during the cutscenes and uses Day of the Tentacle music rather than the tracks from the Nintendo Entertainment System version.  As Day of the Tentacle was a game with a very different visual aesthetic and a Saturday morning cartoon feel rather than the horror B-movie feel of Maniac Mansion, the DoTT music tracks just feel out of place.

As Maniac Mansion was the first point-and-click adventure by LucasArts, it does show its age and doesn't hold up to the test of time as well as some of the other LucasArts adventures.  Unlike most LucasArts adventure games, it has dead ends and it's possible to die.  Even so, the odd characters, fun puzzles, interesting B-movie atmosphere, and multiple endings make it a fun adventure that's worth playing.  I personally recommend the Nintendo Entertainment System version, preferably played using the patch by Ryan Souders that adds the ability to control the cursor with the SNES Mouse, as the NES version has excellent music that fits the atmosphere well and adds additional ways to win the game.

Addendum: October 26, 2022: I forgot the Family Computer version, which is completely in Japanese and was created in-house by Jaleco. It's a really different version of the game that deserves its own article.

Update: October 27, 2022: I also forgot to mention the fact that Maniac Mansion can be played on Ed's computer in Day of the Tentacle. Since this review was written, Day of the Tentacle Remastered was released by Double Fine and Maniac Mansion can still be played on Ed's computer in this version. Interestingly, the original Day of the Tentacle contains the original DOS version of Maniac Mansion, while Day of the Tentacle Remastered contains the "enhanced" DOS version.

Update: October 26, 2022: There is now another option for playing Maniac Mansion. Meteor Mess 3D is a fan-made three-dimensional remake. It has voice acting, which is actually pretty good. The 3D models are quite stiff, but the backgrounds are great. They fit in perfectly with the original, low-resolution, low-color backgrounds, and they work perfectly with the atmosphere of the game. 

I still recommend the NES version, but Meteor Mess 3D could be an option for those who still have yet to play the game or want to play it again, as long as you don't mind the stiff character models.

Update: April 26, 2022: There is now a patch for the NES version of Maniac Mansion by Ryan Souders that adds the ability to control the cursor with the SNES Mouse. I now recommend using this patched NES version on NES emulators or on a real NES with a SNES to NES controller adapter.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle Review

Ben Jordan: Lost Galleon of the Salton Sea Review

In The Lost Galleon of the Salton Sea, the paranormal investigator's second case, Grundislav Games takes every thing that worked well in the first case and expands on it, making a much bigger adventure for Ben Jordan to experience than before.

The case takes place less than a week after the last one.  Ben Jordan receives a call from a woman in California. She informs Ben that her husband went missing when looking for the Lost Galleon, a Spanish treasure ship that was fabled to be at the bottom of the Salton Sea.  The game takes place in and around a small desert town.  There are shops for Ben to visit, items that he can purchase, and employees and customers to whom he can talk.  There are also surrounding areas he can visit. Some are nearly ghost towns, and others have their own set of colorful characters.

As with the previous case, the people that Ben will meet are quite an interesting sort.  They are once again voiced well for a free adventure game, with no real standouts as being overly irritating.  The voice of the old prospector is close, but his voice grew on me with time.  There is no voice for the narrator this time.  Descriptions of objects are now presented in plain text in a black box in the center of the screen.  The music is also well done, with a nice set of songs that fit each of the game's locations.

Once again, there is no way to get voices and subtitles on the screen at the same time.  The only way to get subtitles on the screen is to turn off the voice pack in the setup program.  There are no overly quiet characters this time, so it shouldn't be an issue for most, but for those who have a hard time hearing or those where English isn't their first language, it will likely be necessary.  Like the last game, however, the story is interesting enough to hold your interest even without voice over work.

The game uses the same visual style as the last, with realistic backgrounds that look nice despite their early 1990's era resolution, and pixelated character sprites that are evened out by detailed character portraits that are a mix of cartoon style and realistic.  The game uses the same Sierra style interface as the last, with the actions selected by the top menu bar or by cycling through icons with your right mouse button.  The top menu inventory and helpful notebook icon where you can check Ben's current task return as well.  The game does make an improvement on the map over the last.  Instead of having to select the map from your inventory, you simply leave the area.  This is more in line with most adventure games with map-based travel, and is a much easier way to navigate.

The puzzles inventory based puzzles are just as interesting as the last game.  There are some new styles of puzzles here, and once again the puzzles that go outside the box were my favorite.  There is one puzzle that goes beyond real world logic, but as this is a series featuring the paranormal, it works well when you put your mindset in the game's world.  There is a puzzle that I quite enjoyed that is reminiscent of a puzzle in Telltale's second Bone game, which would be released a few years after this case.

The second case of Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator is an improvement over the already impressive first case. The deluxe version is definitely the version to get, as it adds several things to the overall experience.  There is more area to explore, the voices are performed slightly better this time, the inventory-based map is replaced with a much easier to use system, and there is more music since there are more locations.  The puzzles are fun once again, with the puzzles that think outside the box being the standouts.  The game's only real flaw is the same as the first, in that there is no way to have subtitles and voices on screen at the same time.  However, the game's intriguing story is enough to keep interest even without voice work.  Like the first case, Ben Jordan: Lost Galleon of the Salton Sea is one of the best free adventure games that I have played.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Ben Jordan's Final Case Is Out Now

Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator finally concludes after nine years of investigating the paranormal, as Ben Jordan: Case 8: Relics of The Past is out now.  The game reconciles the events of the previous case, as Ben searches for the truth in the past and present in an effort to confront the mad man that threatens his future.

All eight cases are available for free.  However, the author accepts Paypal donations if you enjoyed the game and wish to show your support.

Doctor Who: The Gunpowder Plot Review

Doctor Who: The Adventure Games series two was announced shortly after series one ended. It was advertised to be a "bigger and better gaming experience" than its predecessor. This turned out to be partly true. Series two wasn't bigger than the first, as it ended up consisting of only The Gunpowder Plot. However, it definitely was a better gaming experience.

The story is the most intriguing one out of all of the Doctor Who Adventure Games episodes released.  It's nuanced enough with enough twists and turns that it could have easily been used as one of the scripts for the television show.  Some of the best moments of Doctor Who come from when the Doctor and his companions meet historical figures, and that is certainly the case here.  In grand Doctor Who tradition, of course, everything is not as it seems, and classic Whovian aliens are thrown into the mix as well.  One of the aliens in the game have not been seen since Tom Baker's time, which should be a treat for longtime fans of the show.  These aliens are given the new millenium makeovers that most of the classic Doctor Who creatures have received, but the way they are written is very true to their roots.

There is a lot of area to explore here, and a lot of people to communicate with.  Never before has a Doctor Who Adventure Game episode felt so lively.  The puzzles here are still of the casual adventure variety, but, like the last few episodes of the last series, they are varied and are not repeated as was the case in the earliest episodes.  There are also more inventory based puzzles here.  There is nothing that will stump any veterans of the genre, but it's nice to see this episode add more staples of the adventure genre into the gameplay.

The Gunpowder Plot is definitely the best episode to come out of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games.  There is more adventure-style puzzles, the casual adventure puzzles are varied and not monotonous, the storyline is interesting, and the Doctor Who aliens are written to be true to their roots.  With the understandable exception of Rory, all the characters are voiced excellently.  The music and sound effects, taken from the television series, are once again put to excellent use in the game.  Although Series two wasn't as big as was advertised, The Gunpowder Plot definitely ended the adventure games on a high note.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Walking Dead: Around Every Corner Review

Around Every Corner is the penultimate episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead. It continues the high standard set forth by previous episodes in the series, and even manages to improve upon them in some areas as well.

The game takes place immediately after the last episode, with the group finally making it to their destination.  Of course, this being The Walking Dead, things don't go as well as they would have hoped.  Tensions continue to rise and the team continues having to deal with human characters just as much, if not more so, than the walkers.  The voice actors continue to do a great job portraying that tension.  The returning characters are great as usual, and the new characters shine as well.  This is the episode where the contest winner becomes a human character in the game, and that character is interesting as well, if understandably, a little under-used.

The art and animation is great as usual.  The expressions come off as nicely as before.  The new locations are interesting, and they are designed for exploration, without the invisible boundaries that, although fitting with the storyline, were obvious in previous episodes.  The music and sound effects also fit the game as usual, and manage to continue to set the tone well.

Telltale continues addressing fan concerns here.  There are more action scenes than before, with the QTE's much more limited than in earlier episodes.  The direct control shooting portions are much better integrated into the game this time around, feeling less like a mini-game and more like part of the over-all experience.  There is also a lot more exploration and adventure style puzzling.  The puzzles still aren't difficult, but there are more of them, making it a better balance of casual adventuring mixed about evenly with action.  The biggest thing here is that the choices you made throughout the episodes are really starting to matter here.  Characters really respond to you based on your actions and decisions in previous games, and the relationships between the characters matter here more than they have before.  There is also another game changing life or death choice here, like in episode 1, that will certainly change the way the final episode plays out.

Around Every Corner is the best chapter of The Walking Dead so far. It sets up the conclusion in a grand manner while still being entertaining and exciting in it's own right.  It's taken everything that previous episodes did well, and made them even better.  Your choices matter more here than before, the action scenes feel more like part of the experience rather than a mini-game, there is another life or death choice the likes that haven't been seen since the first episode, there is more to explore with more casual adventure puzzles, and the voice actors, music, and sound effects continue to shine.  The final episode has a lot to live up to, as this episode sets the bar higher than any casual adventure game by Telltale that came before it.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ben Jordan: In Search of the Skunk-Ape Review

Ben Jordan: Paranormal Detective is a series of eight free adventure games starring Ben Jordan, a young man fresh out of college who decides to become a paranormal investigator.  In his first case, he heads to the Florida everglades to investigate a series of murders that have been linked to the Skunk-Ape, Florida's version of the Sasquach, a Bigfoot like creature that gets its unique name because it smells terrible.

There are two versions of the game, the original version, and the deluxe version which has improved art, an expanded storyline, and full voice acting.  Unfortunately, there are only subtitles when the voice acting is turned off.  It's a shame, because other than irritating voice of the protester, the voice work is pretty good, especially for a free fan game.  Ben Jordan's voice did take a bit getting used to, especially since his is the voice you'll hear the most in the game, but as the story started heating up, I had definitely warmed up to it.  There is also a man who is voiced well, but he speaks softly.  I had to turn my speakers up to hear what he was saying.  People who are hearing impaired or those of whom English isn't their first language will definitely need to opt for subtitles over voice work.  You can do so in the setup program by unchecking the voice pack option.

Luckily, the story line is entertaining enough to sustain interest in the game even without the voice work.  The search for the Skunk-Ape is interesting, and there are quite a few twists in the story line along the way.  The characters that Ben Jordan gets to meet and interrogate along the way are each given quirky, but believable personalities.  They are all a bit extravagent in their own way, but their appearance in and around a state park is completely reasonable.  The storyline is mostly serious, but there is a lot of humor sprinkled in.  Both the serious and the comical lines are written well, and the game straddles the fine line between the two very well.

The game is set up like Sierra adventure games from the 1990's.  You can choose icons to walk, talk, and look either by hovering your mouse at the top of the screen or cycling through them with your right mouse button.  The inventory, as well as the save and load screens, are also accessable at the top of the screen.   The Sierra influence goes beyond the interface.  When you use an icon with an item, there is a narrator who will make comments.  This will yield useful information, but it is also the source for much of the game's humor.  You'll find some references to classic adventure games tucked away in these comments.

The art work is very well done.  It's all low resolution, in the style of the early 1990's adventure games, but it's done very well.  Like those classics, they get a lot out of the small pixel space they have available.  The background art is lovely, done in a realistic style, with a nice amount of detail in each scene.  The characters are also done well.  The sprites are understandably limited, but the close up art of the characters are done well.  The aren't photo-realistic, and border between cartoon style and realistic, but they fit well with the style of the background art.

The puzzles are very much an homage to classic games, as there is no in-game hint system.  However, each puzzle is designed very well, so for most adventure gamers help shouldn't be needed.  Some of the puzzles require thought beyond what you are used to with the rest of the puzzles, which makes these puzzles some of the most creative in the game.  Another thing I liked with the puzzles is the notepad system.  Like all good investigators, Ben has a notepad and a pen.  He will often automatically write down important information in regards to a puzzle, and his notes are available to the player by clicking on the paper icon in the menu at the top of the screen.  This is handy, as there are times when you get stumped trying to determine how to obtain an item, only to forget the other items that are needed to complete a puzzle.

Case 1: In Search of the Skunk-Ape is a great start to the Ben Jordan: Paranormal Investigator series.  The deluxe version is definitely the version to get, since it offers many improvements over the original.  The art style, puzzles, and story are all fantastic.  The game manages to combine humor and serious tones quite well.  The voice work is mostly good, with a few exceptions.  However, the characters who aren't voiced as well aren't on the screen for long, and don't hamper the experience.  The one major drawback is the inability to have voice and subtitles on the screen at the same time.   The more quiet characters fall into the category of annoyances as a result, which is a shame since they aren't necessarily voiced poorly.   It's also  a short game, but this can be forgiven since it's available for free. Even with the game's flaws I still highly recommend this game.  It's one of the best free adventure games I've played.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5