By Morpheus Kitami
|Ah, metahumor is always great in a serious horror game...|
You know, this all turned out a lot easier than I thought it would be. In the sense that this was some unfathomable tanglement of impossibility.
|I can talk to Peter in his house, fat lot of good that'll do, and no, he isn't pointing a gun at me|
Guess it's time to stake out people's houses. Susan stays at home until about 11:00, then heads over to the right. At midnight she enters/walks past Peter's house. Walking past is a glitch, because she won't appear on the next screen. Well, better go back to the Inn. I keep forgetting it's name of The Dog & the Duck, so much so that I'm not even sure that's right.
|This is a pretty cool effect, though the death isn't terribly impressive|
As I walk towards the inn, suddenly the scene changes and I can see two headlights. Clearly, whoever ran over Jimmy is now after me. The first time I just get run over, but pretty quickly it's clear that I can move around, with north and south dodging, west and east just resulting in him chasing me. For what purpose? I try to think about how I could possibly solve this.
Aha, maybe I use the mirror again! Well, I can reflect the headlights at the car, but apparently that isn't going to work. This is a really boring action sequence, because by just walking around I'm effectively car bullfighting for an infinite length of time. No, seriously, this is the most boring puzzle in the game. Once you know how to stop dying you start messing around with timing, hoping you have to get it just right, only for that to be wrong.
Okay, screw it, walkthrough time. "Go north and east and the car will eventually hit a tree." Well, the first couple of times I do this nothing happens. If I wasn't looking at a walkthrough I'd assume this isn't the way to go.
Once I finally do it, it really is a tedious process I don't know how you'd figure out without using a walkthrough. I took a video just so you can see how annoying it really is. I had to deal with this like 6 times over the course of this entry.
Also includes a bit of me trying to play the game. Not only do I show the car chase, I show where I can finally go after all this time...to little point, really. Susan is in Peter's at this time of night and I don't think I can show you the office, since there's a pin-up on the wall, and the description points out that if Miss December is wearing what she is in December, she'll freeze to death.
|That poor tree|
The car is a wreck, but surprisingly I can't do much with it. I can enter it, but all I can do there is look inside the glove box and get keys initaled "P.M.". Is the occupant Peter Mason? I have no idea, because the game doesn't show me. Its a surprising bit of not showing the violence. How badly mangled is his body?
Now, that took a few attempts and three sessions to solve, but in the meantime I found out the holy grail of puzzles. That's right, I found an envelope. Where was it?
You see the display stand? Left of the Postmistress here. I suppose this is my own fault for not noticing it...but I have never seen an envelope in something like that...and I wouldn't call that a display stand. I have seen those little displays around, but calling them display stands? Pah, this game is making me develop a hatred for British English. Now I can mail the photos! Just have to put the film in the envelope, put the voucher in the envelope, close it, stamp it, address it, and then put it in the post box. Yes, all those steps. Wait 2 days...And Mrs Jones will give me the gold.
...and we've discovered, shock of shocks, that Susan was playing cowgirl with Peter Mason. At this point, I'm curious as to how Jimmy took these photos. Are they from the outside? Or did he manage to break in? Because depending on the answer I've got questions about how nobody already knew this. I'm also wondering what the people I sent these photos too were thinking. If the impression I've gotten over the years is true, it's not exactly unusual for these places to receive photos of a certain nature, but I'm unaware as to detective photos.
You know what that means, time to show everyone in town what horrific filth Susan and Peter have been doing. First stop, does Peter have anything to say about this? No? No. Now, the postmistress...
...and I've been arrested for having stolen goods in my room. I don't know when he came through, but oh, well. I think I'm going to have to restart anyway, but at least this time I know what I'm doing. It's actually really hard to stop him, because I don't know what he cares about. I mean, does he care about the stake in my room? Some random gardening gloves? The mop from the crypt?
I know this happens on day 3, because if you sleep on day 2 toy soldiers attack...or something. I don't know, but I do know I have to play the bugle here. Perhaps this is what triggers the search. I'm not even sure there's a reason to do this yet. I actually thought this was spoiled by another storefront screenshot, but no, that spoiled a different, seemingly more nonsensical puzzle.
But I do realize, sometime around now, that by asking the postmistress about the envelope she'll tell me about the place I'm sending it too. I don't even have to use a stamp.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite frequently cursing in real life, I try to keep it to a minimum over the internet...and the man won't let me anyway. So I won't repeat what I said after realizing this. Or the screaming, gibberish, and other acts of unpleasantness one has after the realization that one has wasted one's time. But let it be known that I am not happy.
Peter's keys open up two areas, the one I'm more interested in is his house. This is a three room place, seemingly without a bathroom. There's a clock in the hallway, which is the only way to really tell the current time short of asking someone. A living room, inside the fruit bowl is a note from "Polly", telling Peter that her husband suspects and he should be eliminated. The kitchen seemingly contains nothing.
|Why is that cushion on the floor?|
In the bedroom, I find a robe in Peter's wardrobe, clearly indicating that Peter is a member of a cult. I suspect I'm going to have to use this to infiltrate a satanic gathering. The only problem is that I don't have a satanic gathering to infiltrate. Otherwise, if I wait long enough Susan will return...and grab me. You know, I think the police would be just as interested in why Susan is here...
|Yes, pressing the buttons is every bit as annoying as you think it is|
The garage has some stuff, but nothing really helpful. There's a spanner and some goggles, and since there's a blowtorch nearby and a locked boot, I figure I can cut it open...but the game doesn't let me. I can't open it. I can go underneath it with the lift function, and drain the oil, but I don't know why yet. In the office, which I can't show you since there's a pin-up calender in there, is an in-voice, for free, to someone named "PM". I know that's Peter Mason, but I can't help but think of Perry Mason each time I see it.
It occurs to me that there was a rope connected to the church's bell, so I figure I can cut that and then enter the burned mansion. That works, but inside I can't quite figure out what I need to do to advance. The game says if I put it around the banister it just slides off...so I check a walkthrough to see what I'm missing. Nothing, I can just swing across. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
|This guy looks like he's going to get back up and eat my face off|
Upstairs, presumably in Tony's bedroom is...a rotting tramp and nothing else. Nothing I can unlock or anything under the bed. The tramp has some clothing, which I can search. Looking inside I find a bottle, once used for meths. Pretty awful security if some tramp got past it. This, I assume, is to be used to gather the holy water.
|Don't worry about it, it's not important|
Elsewhere there's a pile of leaves, obviously hiding something. A trap door, not locked, which leads to a different crypt with nothing in it. NOTHING AT ALL. THERE'S NOTHING TO SEE HERE, JUST IGNORE THE OBVIOUS STONE DOOR. I try a bunch of things, but nothing happens. I figure I need to open the mausoleum outside, which is where that door leads. I can't remember if I tried the hammer.
|"Yes, let's burn him like this"|
Success, but it's better than that secret stone door. It's the holy axe. I just take it...the handle disintegrates after I do that. The game notes that the axehead is blunt and rusty...so I need to sharpen it. I assume I missed some item somewhere, or maybe the witch has a sharpening stone. This game requires a lot of looking in and behind things.
|You see her eyes open ever so briefly when the screen switches over to this view|
And that witch is more or less the one unknown variable left. The witch! So I can enter her room if I take off my shoes. I found this out simply because I tried lightening my load of anything useless, like most of my clothing and checking her house again. Alice has a key around her neck and a stepladder under her bed. With this, I can enter the attic.
|The witch sure likes dressing her hostage weird|
In the attic is Judy. Who's Judy? Well, the police officer says she's from the next town over. Hmm...I wonder if that means Mr. Roberts is in on it? If I ask Judy anything now, Alice will kill me. If I walk back down, Alice will kill me, because unsurprisingly, someone walking around the attic causes that to happen. After a few attempts I note that there's a cold water tank up here. I don't know why, since cold sinks and hot rises, but okay. There's also a jug. You know what that means?
She melts. Now I can unchain Judy...who informs me that there's another sacrifice. She has nothing else to say, even about the people I suspect are related to this incident. This frees Alice's cottage of the evil presence and I can enter as I please. Now then, three things are left to do, even though I need to do all these properly in a playthrough.
Dealing with the stolen items seems impossible. After all, if I just leave stuff in the middle of the street the owners will take it, right? Wrong, I left all of Susan's stuff in the middle of the road outside her house and nothing happened. Even to the film and the key! I also found a maul inside one of the cardboard boxes and an oilstone/sharpener behind some paint cans. I can use the handle of the maul to replace the axe's old one...but I need oil for the oilstone. As in that oil I drain from the car.
And yes, the game really is that stupid, I can even leave the marriage certificate right outside the registar's office. Really, as long as I'm not stupid this shouldn't be much of a problem.
Before I get into what I missed, I should point out that after mailing it, you know, after making sure I won't get arrested this time, I ask the police about my mother. I hate the broken triggers in this game. Ask about Judy, oh, she's from some other village. Ask about my mother, who is very much alive, oh, something horrible has happened.
|I'm more worried about losing stuff than I am for anyone being accountable for a murder|
OH, SOMETHING HORRIBLE HAS HAPPENED! Uh...does this mean that I don't have an aunt named Alice? Well, I have to reload, I left stuff in there. Probably for the best I don't leave stuff in there. I should note that I found some wool/yarn at the side of a chair. How the hell am I still finding items I have no idea what they're for?
For the record, this is awful design. That really is supposed to be my mother in there. Typing look mother is the same as look woman. Perhaps the game should have brought this up, perhaps by saying "OH, IT'S YOUR MOTHER! HOW HORRIBLE!"
Since Tony isn't hiding anything at his old home...then I must have missed something at the inn. Well, if I enter there when he isn't, and check his pillow, which the game points out, I can find his diary. Poured gasoline over his parents and then lit a match. The game allows you to be a schmuck and show these objects to the people they show the guilt of, but they'll take them. I give it to the police and everyone is safe. Hey, postmistress, did you hear about Tony?
Oh...no. Judy was the backup. But this all brings forth one question...if Tony isn't the Lord of the Manor, who is? Michael? The man who hasn't been seen since day 1? He's just completely disappeared. Then there's another problem, I'm not quite sure how to give the policeman all the evidence. He needs Susan's marriage certificate to know that she's Polly, but no matter what order I show him the stuff it doesn't seem like it works.
|What must the landlord think of me?|
To top it all off, I discover that the game is putting Tony's cat and a popgun outside my room after the toy soldiers enter. There's no way of detecting this if you don't look while in this room. Which I did because I lost the damn vicarage key. The cat follows me around, eventually stopping. If I shoot the popgun without the cat there, a cork drops.
Apparently the stamp WAS necessary and snooker is a red herring, but I'm sure that's not important. I discovered another secret crypt, this one by pushing the coffin in the mausoleum. Although this is after extensively searching Peter's house. After all, that Michael character is somewhere, he can't just have disappeared into thin air. Now just to wait until near the time Satan pops up and I should be able to take them out.
|I have definitely seen something like this as an album cover|
Huh? I was wearing the robe outside...why did this happen?
|Remember to say it twice in case nobody heard|
Anyway, without getting Susan arrested, I can't do anything here it seems. I get set on fire like if Alice did it, and that means I have to start over. AGAIN. Well, not entirely, but gah, that's a lot of stuff to do over again. I feel like I'm getting a bit too much opportunity to be patient with this game. Not to mention sometimes making mistakes. A hour later...
I've taken a video of this final encounter, the rest of this entry will be merely recounting these events.
Without Susan there, the acolytes at the entrance don't notice who I am, so I can safely wait for the ritual to begin. I can see a girl put in a pile of wood. Slowly the acolytes come out.
It turns out that the chief acolyte is my father. I don't have anything better to do, so he's taking an axe. I'm not seeing this child burned.
With that done, Satan appears in his place. I just throw the holy water at him. I've won! What wonderful ending will I get...
No, I'm pretty sure I have.
So...uh...what exactly did the prophecy in the book mean then? Could I really only destroy the lord of the manor with the axe, assuming my father is the lord of the manor? If that's true, doesn't that mean I'm now lord of the manor? What happened to Michael?
I'll get to the summary another time, but at the moment I feel rather empty.
Final time: 11 hours 10 minutes
Okay, I've cooled off from that bit of disappointment.
|It feels like I'm questing for THE ADVENTURER'S GUILD (c) tm|
Personal Nightmare has a reputation for being one of the hardest and most brutal adventure games ever made, along with a style of horror that also feels brutal despite not being as outwardly violent as Elvira series. This was certainly an interesting game, one that I think belies its reputation a little bit. But let's see what those facts do to the rating.
Let's observe that difficulty claim, I looked up a walkthrough a few times and I had a little help from spoilery screenshots used on storefronts. Let's list those times, and if I think I could have solved it otherwise.
- I looked it up to see what I had to do to develop the photos. (I had fooled myself into thinking the game needed me to actually develop the photos, hey, stranger things have happened)
- I looked up and discovered that I could look under things. (I dunno)
- The storefront spoils that I need to use the stake on the dog. (clearly I need to use the stake on someone, I'd get it through process of elimination)
- The storefront spoils that I need to say a prayer by the statue. (process of elimination, the prayer book is clearly useful somewhere)
- I looked up how to escape the car. (If one figures out that they have to get the car to crash into the tree, and counts the number of steps there, doubtful)
- I looked up how to get into the burnt mansion. (It depends...)
- I saw that I needed to put the cork into the bottle and how to get that. (It's a stroke of luck I even noticed the damn thing)
However, I must admit there were a few moments where if I didn't get lucky I'd never even know those items were there. However at the end I picked up a walkthrough less because I wasn't sure what to do as much as I didn't want to deal with whatever tiny crap was left. There's a walkthrough for the game Robinson's Requiem, which says that despite being a complex game, its reputation as a super hardcore survival simulation is incredibly overstated. I think this is true of Personal Nightmare, too.
Let's go over some of this. Past the first day every NPC's schedule is incredibly easy to follow, they more or less take the same steps. So it's easy to avoid them whenever they're in some place you need to enter or take an item from. You do have to do some things right away at the beginning, but at the same time, it's at the beginning and you'll restart anyway just to make sure you're doing all you're doing at the start.
The clock is incredibly forgiving, there were huge chunks of time where I didn't have anything to do at all. Most of this is an illusion, but the only time a specific time is necessary to advancing the game is at the beginning, the end, and I guess the car attack. The first two are fairly obvious, the last is not. Granted, you do need to figure out how to deal with the envelope and the photos, but if you avoid a walkthrough and actually examine everything the first time around you'd be able to figure out what you need to do.
I think people just get so hung up on how this is so nightmarishly hard it's impossible to play without a walkthrough, when I managed to get a lot of this without looking up a walkthrough. Would an impossibly hard game let you open a locked desk with a sledgehammer? Or just cut a rope with a pair of secateurs? Or taking off your shoes to sneak around a witch's bedroom? A lot of these puzzles are much more intelligent than people give credit to. Don't think it's all roses in Horrorsoft land though. I know I wasted time thinking I was gonna find something clever by watching people move around.
Let's talk about my issue with the game, how buggy it is. If you looked up a walkthrough you'll note that I skipped past two things, I didn't use the blowtorch to take off the hook to attach to the rope to get into the burnt mansion. I could just get past it without that. Secondly, I didn't use the gardening gloves when I was getting the oil out of the car. To say nothing of sound issues, characters appearing in weird places, sometimes not showing up, graphical glitches, and of course ScummVM not showing day and night transitions.
I should note that the DOS version had two gamebreaking glitches originally, firstly, there was a broken file that just crashed the game at a certain point, and secondly, you had to get the tears into the bottle 3 times or you'd die at the end.
|"I may be trying to kill you, but that's no reason to be rude"|
I suspect the Amiga version in an Amiga emulator is better in some places, but I'm not eager to play a three disk game all the way through when loading happens on nearly every screen transition. It's very, very slow in general. I had so much trouble just dealing with the vampire that I can't imagine actually playing a full game of this. This, ironically enough, answers one of my questions. The Michael Williams character who completely disappeared was in fact the vampire. This brings up the question of what the hell did I see when I thought I saw him walking around? I don't remember finding the garlic then. Also, that's a very different image than his walking around gear...
|Look at how cool this place is in the twilight!|
I could also hear the bells were considerably lower in volume, so that would have been a problem too. I hope that at some point the ScummVM people fix the day and night transitions in this game. But because of all this, it's likely that some of the shots you're seeing have never been seen even by people who have beaten the game.
|Really adds some character to the town!|
Let's talk about a universal issue, the bloody limey parser. Now, I'm sure this wold be less troublesome if you were British and used to clipping your toenails with secateurs, wearing trousers and eating beans on toast, but I'm not. Even if you were, the parser in this game is so bad. You have to have split second timing at moments and the parser frequently drops lttrs frm wods. To say nothing of guessing the verb or guessing what you can even do. It's simply awful.
|Look at how much better the dog looks now!|
Best of all, because of this we get the worst of both parser and graphic adventures. Pixel hunting and guessing verbs.
I looked through the game files afterward, and found out that the parser is only taking the first six or so letters of most words into account. That's the only thing I found out, since the text itself is obfuscated.
A few more things, the cross and the garlic both act as wards against certain characters, the ghosts in the graveyard and the vampire. This is kind of interesting, because this means you can actually get through a lot of the game with Michael as a threat. So you could in theory get on the wrong track for the vampire with the stake. Like the myriad of other red herring items around. Maybe, as I remember that I got through some sections that I shouldn't have.
Let's talk about the story for a second. I guess I can infer some things. My mother calls me into town because my father is becoming obsessed with an old vicar who got murdered 300 years ago. Then my father sends a letter noting that I'll be at The Duck and Dog Inn while he repairs the house, and that my mother has swiftly gone to my aunt Alice who is bed-ridden. The night before I get a vision of my father dying in a blast of lightning, before Satan appears where he once stood.
I quickly find out that the town photographer, Jimmy, has discovered that his wife has been cheating on him, and is promptly run down. That there is a vampire in the local crypt, and that there is in an evil presence in one of the houses. Clearly, something funny is going on in the town of Tynham Cross. But what?
Gradually, I clear up these mysteries, killing the vampire, and killing the witch in the house, while discovering that a sacrifice is to be made to Satan. I find out that another boarder at the inn set his parents on fire, and that Jimmy's wife is doing it with the local mechanic, who seems to be in a cult. By gathering evidence of these events I can give it to the policeman, who once sufficently swayed, will arrest them.
That leaves the mystery of my parents, what happened to them. If I smash up a wall, I discover a woman, who is presumably my mother, in the wall, but my father is completely invisible. A book explains how "the lord of the manor" was a satanist a long time ago and was killed with a holy axe and holy water, which I take to be a prophecy.
If I explore a burnt mansion, killing the guardian helldog first, I discover many secret crypts. At the appropriate time, I end up at a ritual sacrifice, and that the head cultist is my father. I kill him, and Satan who appears afterwards.
This is fine...except how did this all come to be? Did my father suddenly turn evil or was he possessed by the devil? Presumably all these people I've arrested and killed would have been at the gathering had I not been there. Why were the witch and vampire here? Even so, there are still a lot of cultists around. The story of this game leaves too many bizarre aspects hanging, and I'm left with more questions than answers. For instance, does this mean I'm "the lord of the manor" now? Bleh.
My final complaint is that I'd like to have seen the ending at the very least have a picture of my father. We didn't need that demon in the kitchen sink, which basically just functions as a cheap death or the random death I got near the end. There, now you have the space to show Charlton Heston getting an axe in the chest and turning into Satan, you can still cheap out on your ending.
Puzzles and Solvability
Quite a lot of this game is more clever than it gets credit for. Once you figure out that the game wants you to search everywhere thoroughly, things go very smoothly. Nearly all the puzzles have a reasonable solution to them, so long as you don't find yourself distracted by dealing with things in the wrong way. Its just that outer shell that makes it feel so much more unmanageable than it really is, and once that disappeared, I was pleased by the cleverness of it all.
There's a sense, once you finally get it all down, of it going through like a finely tuned machine.
Interface and Inventory
This game is an awkward mix of graphic adventure and text adventure that doesn't quite know what it wants to do. The wordlist and compass seems like a compromise from a group of developers who really, really wanted to make another text adventure. I eventually got into a groove with it, but I feel like making a game with both guess the word parser issues and pixel hunting is an awful choice.
This is to say nothing of the parser's difficulty in handling my typing speed in an enhanced version, the original is practically unplayable!
There's quite a bit of interesting stuff going on with the inventory. The clothing you wear actually factors into the game, and you can store additional items in your suit and your briefcase. If you wanted to. That is a bit tricky to deal with, so I ditched the briefcase and only stuck keys into my suit, but it is an option for the forgetful adventurer. That's to say nothing of how I liked the way you actually had to think about what items did or had as a part of them, culminating in reassembling the holy axe.
Story and Setting
My issues with the story are well documented, but besides that we don't get a lot to it. It eschews a reasonable story for what is on your part metagaming...or you're secretly a master thief who isn't interested in solving a mystery as much as stealing everything in people's homes and defeating Satan is just because you love stealing so much.
I liked the sleepy English village setting secretly holding great evil there, despite being as well worn a horror cliche as a spooky mansion. One problem is with the reused rooms, every crypt looks the same, and several houses have generic rooms that don't serve any purpose at all, even with useless items. This house doesn't have a bathroom, why did it need a useless kitchen?
My big issue with the locales is that the game has too much confusion going on with directions. Par for the course when you try to fit compass directions into a game with constantly changing directions. I would cite two places the game could actually fix this, the graveyard, which takes slightly longer to navigate than you'd think, and the crypt. The crypts are an easy fix. Instead of having west and east, have north and south, since the forward view tends to make you think that forward is north.
Sound and Graphics
It's a very nice-looking game. Backgrounds are mostly well made, with a few issues that might just be due to ScummVM. There is some reuse, on the street and the aforementioned interiors, but overall I was pleased with it. The face sprites were sufficiently disgusting in all cases they came up. Really, the biggest issue is the way inventory items change based on what room you're in.
Outside of having to listen to the bongs of the church bell to determine the time, I felt the sound was well used. The deadly sounds of an enemy approaching, the gurgling of my death, it was all well-used. Low quality and sometimes poorly looping, but well-used.
Environment and Atmosphere
I liked the combination of detective work and horror this game had. I brought up Giallo films in the opening section, and this does a pretty good job of transferring that to a video game form. Everything fits into place, from the story that falls apart under scrutiny, to the not quite amazing, but still creepy gore, and the slightly cheap nature of it. I appreciate that this game isn't so much about surviving as it is about sticking it to all the Satanists you meet.
That aside, the much vaunted aspect of the game where the cast moves around throughout the day and you have to take that into account really only amounts to window dressing. The world doesn't feel alive. There are like 7 people who actually move around, and half of those are people you need to take out. Nobody wanders around, or really chases after you. All it amounts is something you plan for pretty soon on and then work with that.
Dialogue and Acting
I feel bad that this aspect is so completely unimportant, because whenever you actually get to talking to people you're basically just pumping them for information on obvious subjects when they put some surprising effort into subjects you wouldn't necessarily think to talk to people about. At the end I was doing stuff that would obviously screw me over just so I could read more of it. There's something delightfully pulpy about how they talk, finding out their reactions to whatever new piece of info I've uncovered.
Hey, its actually higher than you all guessed for once! Leo has the highest score at 40. This actually makes it the best Horrorsoft game by 2 points, just above Elvira's 53.
Speaking of comparing it to Elvira, I would say that this is easier than that game too, even if you removed all combat from Elvira. To this day I still haven't gotten one of those ring things. I wouldn't even know what those things are if it weren't for the internet.
Before I end, I offer those of you interested in it, the possibility of picking what I play next. I can either continue with horror games until Halloween, or I can play the greatest adventure game you have never heard of, with maybe a horror game break on Halloween.