There are more spooky goings-on in Trilobyte's third game to use the 7th Guest's Groovie engine. Only this time it's decidedly more kid-friendly. Clandestiny may be more Scooby-Doo than The 7th Guest's House on Haunted Hill but does that mean this stand-alone puzzle game has been neutered?
Before we get into it, let's talk about The 7th Guest. Subjectively speaking this early CD-Rom title is one of my all-time favourites. That's not hyperbole either; I play it almost every year around Halloween. However, if I put my objective Scottish beret on (or tam o'shanter as it is known), I cannot deny that there's very little substance behind the glorious visuals and perfect soundtrack. The acting's cheesy, the story incoherently messy and the puzzles are out of place in the worst possible way, yet it has a fairground haunted house feel that really appeals to me. In all honesty, I'm slightly baffled as to why this linear game with no real replay value has kept me coming back but there's something special about it that goes beyond mechanics and technical prowess.
Clandestiny is very much the same, even down to the skeleton hand cursor and the option for the game to solve a puzzle for you. If it weren't for the story set in the Scottish highlands and the downgrade in scares to market to a wider audience, there could be an argument for this to be the forgotten third entry in the trilogy.
The game is played in the first person, with well-animated cut-scenes to present the story. You traverse the castle through Myst-like still images as opposed to the walking animations of the previous games. It makes the game feel cheaper and a little unfinished by comparison but knowing Trilobyte's financial situation at the time it's understandable. While The 7th Guest was hugely popular in 1992 in the advent of CD technology, the high specs required for The 11th Hour meant that it sold poorly. Not very good considering its huge budget.
I'm speculating, but those money troubles may have played a hand in trying to appeal to a younger audience. The BBFC (the legally binding British Board of Film Classification) restricted sales to The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour to those over 15 and 18 respectively, while Clandestiny had been given the advisory ELSPA rating of 11+. It eschews the gory FMV template and goes completely animated. You are Andrew MacPhiles, the 13th Earl (could that have been its working title?) of the Scottish MacPhile clan and heir to the family castle. Not that this cowardly American knew any of this but the promise of untold riches convinces Paula, his pushy girlfriend that they should go. You're then left to explore the grounds to solve puzzles for no real reason other than that they're there.
The story was apparently written and produced as if it were a movie even though it was only ever intended to be part of a game. It is entirely possible to edit the cutscenes together and make a coherent animated short. With this in mind, it's perhaps unsurprising that the transition back into game-play is awkward, to say the least. At least you can easily get a grasp on what's going on in the plot, though I could argue that The 7th Guest's more esoteric approach invites speculation of the lore that is far more engrossing.
While wandering the halls, you'll meet the ghosts of the previous 12 earls. Their appearances are brief but memorable. I would've liked them to play more of a role in the actual game rather than the cutscenes but at least they make for good company while it lasts. The exact opposite to that horrid stuck up girlfriend of yours. Paula is so blinded by the promise of riches that she is oblivious to the spooky goings-on throughout most of the game. Even the obvious unearthly encounters that are right in front of her face pass her by (although that could be down to rushed animation or editing). To top it all off, by the game's end she uncaringly rebukes Andrew's marriage proposal. Yikes. At least his new-found family are a little more supportive even if one of them tries to seduce him.
The off-kilter staff will be around to assist in their own way. Fergus the handyman will give hints on puzzles and generally give random guidance while Mrs. Dimwitty the cook will pop up occasionally for a brief word of wisdom. The puzzles - each of which are essentially re-hashes of what's come before - can be passed by simply clicking on the guidebook. Each page will give you clues until it just solves it for you. This controversial mechanic is included in all of the Trilobyte games and may anger some. In truth, it offers a way out for those who are too stumped to progress. Considering the time and effort that's obviously put into the series everyone should be able to see how it ends, right? This feature does make the new inclusion of a difficulty setting rather baffling. The Brave setting is the way to go giving you the full unaltered game. The Nervous setting partially completes each puzzle while going the Cowardly route leaves you to figure out the last move only. Why anyone would want to play those lower settings is beyond me as the guidebook feature means that anyone can easily complete the game regardless of skill.
The style of Trilobyte's adventure-slash-puzzle games reminds me a lot of the Professor Layton series (which I also love). Like that classic Nintendo franchise, I consider Clandestiny and its older brothers to be great entertainment, though I do struggle to call them great games. I understand those who cannot go along with the flimsy storytelling or un-immersive puzzles but if you have a penchant for such things you can't go wrong here.
Clandestiny is available to buy for the Mac on the MacGameStore.
Clandestiny is © Trilobyte
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me