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.
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!
"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.
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?