Monday, 12 March 2012

Game 12: Mortville Manor - Final Rating

This is not going to be pretty! I thought I might come up against a bit of opposition after my previous negative comments around Mortville Manor, but the responses have mostly been apologetic and accepting of my criticisms. I'm ready to apply the PISSED rating to the game, and I have a feeling it might just surpass Uninvited into the bottom of the pile by the time I'm done.

Puzzles and Solvability
When it really comes down to it, Mortville Manor has less than ten puzzles to solve, and the majority of those can actually be ignored and the game still completed. As though to make up for the lack of much to do, the game throws a huge amount of red herrings at the player. So many curious things come out of the dialogue with manor residents and from the various documents hidden around the manor, but very few of them actually play any part in the plot whatsoever. This in itself makes progress extremely slow, but when you add an extremely cumbersome interface with far too many actions (yet strangely never the ones you need) and very confusing cryptic clues, you’ve got yourself one frustrating and difficult game. What really drives home how confounding the game can be is that it can be completed in around five minutes once you know how! Basically it took me eleven and a half hours to achieve something that really takes five minutes, and I still don’t feel like I actually “solved” much at all. I thought Uninvited would get the only 1 I’d ever give to this category, but Mortville Manor thoroughly deserves that rating.
Rating: 1

Letters like this one merely cause the player to bark up the wrong trees for hours on end

Interface and Inventory
Oh my...this is not going to go well. Let’s start with inventory, because that will be quick. There are two majorly annoying things about the inventory. Firstly, it’s limited to around six items. That’s extremely low when you consider the game is filled with over a hundred items to investigate spread throughout the house. Secondly, and this has as much to do with the interface as it does the inventory system, using an item is next to impossible. You can very easily select an item in the inventory, but knowing how to use it comes down to guess work and in many cases seems impossible. Let’s take the gun as an example. You start with the gun, so you’d expect to be able to use it at some point. But there’s no shoot action or anything that could remotely be used to shoot a gun. The best option I can come up with is to select the ammunition that you find later and to then use the Attach action to neatly place the bullets on someone (this is all ignoring the fact that you never see anyone in the graphical display that you could shoot).

At least the items are well represented. A shame the majority of them are entirely useless!

Now for the interface! I’ve already spent a fair amount of time going over the fact that there are way too many options in each menu, so I won’t bang on about it any longer. The only thing I’ll mention about that now is that I was not once required to use the eat, enter, force, scratch, smell and sound actions, so why are they there!? But that’s not the only problem here. I completely blame the interface for quite a few things that I missed at different points in the game. Occasionally I was required to “attach” an item to something, other times I needed to “put” something somewhere, but then there were other times again where I needed to “place” something somewhere. This resulted in numerous times where I tried to put something somewhere, only for the game to respond with ???, so I simply moved on and forgot about it. If I’d attached it or perhaps placed it instead, it would have worked, as I would find out later when I revisited and tried again. I can certainly see the potential for a detective / mystery game like this one to have dialogue screens and extensive dropdown action menus, but it’s implemented very poorly in Mortville Manor.
Rating: 2

"Attaching" the wooden peg to the cabinet didn't work. Neither did "placing" it there. I had to "put" it there.

Story and Setting
Setting a murder mystery in a grand manor out in the middle of nowhere has been done a million times, but I guess there’s a reason for that. As they say, a cliché is a cliché for a reason! It’s a solid setting for Mortville Manor, but unfortunately the story is bewildering. Of course, I can’t really say that I understand the story at all, so maybe someone who totally gets it might think it’s great. There are stacks of questions that are never answered. Stacks of things that the game tells you that you know and yet they were never revealed prior. Residents act in ways that no sane person ever would and your involvement there doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The parchments were certainly intriguing (possibly the most interesting thing in the game), but they were stupidly cryptic, which I assume was made a lot worse through the translation process from French to English. Overall, it’s possible that my stupidity is causing me to judge this too harshly, so I won’t give it a 1, but I have to give Mortville Manor the worst story rating of the games I’ve played so far, so it’s a 2.
Rating: 2

The parchment that explains everything! Well...sort of!

Sound and Graphics
I’ve spent about thirty minutes playing the PC version in French, just to get a feel for it (as that’s technically the version I’m rating here). It’s pretty much identical, with the sole difference being the graphics are not quite as nice as the Amiga version. This is most apparent when looking at the menus and the conversation screens, where there’s a real lack of colour, but almost every screen has less definition and clarity (see examples below) than on the Amiga. As for where the games graphics stand in the scheme of things, they’re not too bad at all, albeit entirely static (apart from extremely primitive facial movements in the dialogue screen). It’s actually the first game using the first person perspective on the list that has EGA graphics after the likes of Uninvited and Tass Times in Tonetown hit the PC in CGA. Every item is nicely illustrated and with good detail and plenty of time was spent on every room to make them distinctive and easy on the eyes. The sound is just an annoyance really. Every time you enter a room or location, you are subjected to a small snippet of either eerie effects (such as owls hooting) or highly inappropriate rock music. While the music is playing, you have no cursor, so it becomes annoying pretty quickly.
Rating: 4

The PC version's graphics are just a bit dull in comparison to the Amiga...

...and the menus in particular are far less attractive.

Environment and Atmosphere
I have to admit that Mortville Manor does have decent atmosphere throughout. You can probably tell from my posts that I was struggling to make any progress through the game, but I desperately wanted to! I can only put this will to continue, despite all the frustrations I was facing, down to this foreboding atmosphere. The game promised me a dark mystery that would require not only investigatory skill to solve, but would also necessitate stringent attention to my own safety. Having the surroundings covered in snow adds to the claustrophobia that being stuck in a house with a potential murderer already produces. Unfortunately, Mortville Manor failed to live up to this promise, which is why the game’s resolution was so horribly disappointing. I’ve not played many detective / murder mystery type games, but if nothing else, Mortville Manor convinces me that this theme could work really well in an adventure game format. It just doesn’t here! Still, this is undoubtedly the category I will be most lenient with.
Rating: 5

There's no escape in any direction!

Dialogue and Acting
I won’t make the mistake of considering Mortville Manor the first adventure game to require the “acting” to be taken into consideration. After all, the audible speech is entirely synthesised. This aspect does make the Dialogue and Acting category a tough one to rate mind you, as the developers should get a little reward for taking this brave and otherwise untested approach. The idea wasn’t flawed in itself, and I think if they’d included subtitles as well as the speech I might have had better things to say about it. As it is though, it’s extremely difficult to understand what the characters are saying, and the French accent didn’t help matters at all. I had to replay many of their answers numerous times until I finally had enough to figure out what they were trying to tell me. Admittedly, I got used to it within a couple of days, and by the end I was replaying earlier comments and picking up a lot more than I did the first time around. As for the dialogue itself, it’s very poorly translated from French to English. So much so that at times I had trouble figuring out whether what I was reading was supposed to be cryptic or just badly written. The humour in the game was also very odd, and probably another example of where the translation didn’t quite do the game justice.
Rating: 2

There's just nothing funny about this well!

I thought this might be the first LeChuck award, but it scrapes in as a Voodoo Lady. I seriously hope I never have to pull that angry old pirate out! It's time to move onto something more enjoyable. I imagine Police Quest might just be the game to cleanse my palette. Anyone want to put the uniform on and join me out in the field?


  1. Sniff, that's how sweet teenager's memories get crushed :).
    Still glad you gave it a try, the flaws you're pointing at seem to have ruined your experience and we'll see in Maupiti Island if there was any improvement.

    Let's see if being Sonny Bonds suits you better!

  2. Yeah! Police Quest! I've got fond memories of this one, even if it's more about to follow correctly different regulations than real adventuring, but it has a feeling and setting seriously different than more adventure games : a realistic approach.

    Then again, I had fond memories of Mortville Manor, so watch out anyway...

    Just remember to take a good read of the manual because every tedious depiction of police work is useful in this game...

  3. I just printed the manual and it's pretty daunting. You can't seriously need all of this stuff surely! No wonder I couldn't get anywhere as a kid with my pirated copy.

    1. I loved this game as a kid and managed to win with a pirated copy and no manual. I don't think you can get full points without the manual, but there is nothing game breaking with it. If you got through Manic Mansion which I consider to be a harder game, then PQ1 should be easy for you. PQ1 has some of the best actual logical puzzles as opposed to adventure game logic puzzles.

      PQ1 also has some nice shortcut keys for entering/exiting vehicles (F4) and for drawing and shooting your gun (F6 and F8 if I remember correctly).

      I just wish included the original version in the Police Quest Pack as opposed to the remake.

    2. And as there's lot of opening and closing your car door, it's good that you can shorten OPEN, CLOSE and DOOR as O, C and D in the commands.

      Personally, of all the Sierra series, I've always liked the Police Quest least - too much following the regulations mechanically for my taste (I can still remember the repeating rhyme "cuff man", "search man", "read rights"). The first game is also pretty harsh for minor mistakes (flat tire, just for not checking your car properly).

    3. Yeah, I have the GOG Police Quest collection and was very disappointed to find it only has the VGA remake. I've found a copy of the original though, so that's what I'll be playing.

      I must admit Ilmari that I'm likely to feel the same as you. I've never been one of those guys that dreamed about being a policeman or a fireman as a kid. It was all adventures into space or fighting dragons for me. I'll try to judge Police Quest appropriately, but it's unlikely to connect with me the way Space Quest or Quest For Glory games do.

      Then again, I quite enjoyed playing a dorky sleeze that just wanted to get laid and well...that just doesn't match my personality at all. ;)

  4. Huh, I'm glad I sat this one out after all :-)
    I plan to join you in the PQ precinct though, and maybe share some doughnuts. I take it you'll be playing the original AGI version?

    1. Yep, the original AGI version it is. We just need to decide who's going to be good cop and bad cop!

    2. Now that would be interesting, the ability to indulge a darker streak. However based on what I've read about the game, I'm afraid any attempt at bad-copness will likely invoke a typical Restore/Restart Sierra prompt...

    3. I've heard that, at least in the later ones, finding all the ways to 'die' is one of the best parts of the game.

  5. By the way, based on the account of your experience with Mortville Manor it occurred to me that maybe they were going for a straight detective game instead of an adventure. A subtle difference for sure, but a real detective would have to face lots of red herrings and irrelevant info thrown at him, confusing feedback, literally thousands of typical household items that might or not provide a clue, etc. And the case could be solved pretty quickly once one has all the pieces and has separated the chaff.

    That said, any design mimicking real life to that degree is bound to lead to much frustration in the context of a computer game. PQ 1 seems to have gone for a similarly "realist" tack. We'll see how well they handle it...

    Oh, and I would have dropped the Mortville Manor interface score to the minimum available just for forcing me to click on the pull down top menu for any action, which I found tiresome after the first dozen clicks. Or maybe I missed a shortcut :-P

  6. Remember to inspect your car or you're screwed. I actually enjoyed the first Police Quest and thought it went more off the rails in the next two that I played. I'll definitely be tuning in though. Keep a death count, please.

  7. Wow, Psycho really has its work cut out for it if it expects to keep the title of worst adventure game ever.

    For whatever reason the main Sierra games never made it into my household. Space Quest 1 did, but I never got into Sci-Fi. We did end up getting the complete Quest for Glory series though, so I'll have those to look forward to.

  8. Police Quest. This will be interesting. :)

  9. This game looks brutal. Did they even play test this thing?