Friday, 8 May 2020

CITY OF LOST CHILDREN


Anyone with even a passing interest in French cinema has probably heard of the directing duo Jeunet and Caro. The former made inroads into Hollywood by directing Alien Resurrection before returning to his Parisian roots in a big way with the sublime Amelie. After a directorial hiatus, the latter made the underrated sci-fi Dante 01. It's their combined efforts that have earned them their early acclaim with Delicatessen in 1991 and a little oddity from 1995 known as The City of Lost Children. This visually arresting fable even got a belated video game adaptation a few years later thanks to Psygnosis.

Your first impression of The City of Lost Children on either the PC or PlayStation will likely be the same as the movie; this looks stunning. The pre-rendered backgrounds offer a great amount of detail and atmosphere with well-chosen camera angles that truly give a sense of your surroundings. They are missing some animations that would've livened things up a bit, but even without movement, they are entirely absorbing. The polygonal character models are commendable too. Each weirdly designed being is laced with the colours of a carnival, their freak show demeanour ably captured in their animations. It must've been quite a looker in 1997.

Don't hang around too long in Pieuvre's schoolroom or you'll end up in the basement.

Get deeper into the game, however, and similar faults to the movie arise. It is weirdly paced, confusingly plotted and a large chunk of the humour is lost in translation. You play as Miette, a little orphan girl whose name literally translates to 'Crumb'. Your guardian Pieuvre - a bickering pair of siamese twins whose name means 'Octopus' in English - cruelly makes her wards steal for her and she wants Miette to steal whatever is in the cashier's hut.

The beginning of the game doesn't necessarily explain this to you, though. You start facing the eight-limbed schoolmarm in silence. A few beats pass and you'll get your first piece of dialogue; "Still here? Rob the cashier's hut or we'll throw you in the cellar!". Not much of a warning. You're on precarious ground when standing in this room. While you're getting to grips with the Resident Evil style tank control, Pieuvre may get impatient and imprison you in a cell. At this early stage, she forgets to lock the door but it's still an annoyance. You can get an extra line of dialogue from her by pressing the talk button (Page Down), but what you get is more of an expository statement than a conversation.

If the old-school camera flashes in the top right, press the spacebar to see an alternative view.

Eventually, you'll get pieces of the main plot. A nefarious scientist has been kidnapping children.  He has this allusion that by stealing their dreams they will make him young again.  He has created some technically advanced cyborgs known as Cyclops to do his dirty work, each with augmented vision and hearing. The movie's focus flits between Miette and One, a performing strong man played by Ron Pearlman who's searching for his missing little brother. If you only play the game, however, you wouldn't necessarily know this.

The controls are a little awkward, even by the standards of the time. Page Down talks, Page Up picks up, Enter interacts, Ctrl runs, Alt crouches and TAB opens your inventory. Nearly all actions require you to be in a very specific position to perform and if you're not you get a slow response from Miette exclaiming that she "can't do anything...". Even when running, you're likely to rewatch a slow recoil animation whenever she bumps into anything.

The are many flights of stairs in the seaside slums. Way too many!

Everything may be slow and a little cumbersome, but at least they work as they're supposed to. The problems are more to do with the design choices themselves and that extends to the puzzles as well. From my recollection, there are about five fairly simple puzzles in total, each one artificially extended by hiding necessary objects behind scenery or placing them far in the background. None of them are particularly clever, and some may require knowledge of the film. For example, if you've seen the movie, you'll know that the Cyclops are sensitive to sound. In the game, you'll only know this if you ring a bell on a metal stairwell next to one of them. Without this prior knowledge, why would you think to pick up the bell in the first place?

Instead of plot logically pushing the game forward, it is instead the game mechanics. By this I mean you're likely to come across the random items for a given puzzle than actively search for them. While simply walking, an icon will appear in the top left corner to indicate that an item is nearby. As a result, you spend hours exploring the fancifully designed areas in the hope that you'll find something - anything - to pick up. It's strange as the movie itself offers more interesting puzzles and solutions. One memorable scene has Miette tie a magnet to a mouse to get a key hidden in a vent. No such inventiveness exists here. The closest you get is feeding a sausage to a guard dog.

Sometimes items are hidden behind the scenery and it's down 
to luck (or a walkthrough) as to whether you'll find them.

It seems strangely truncated too. The entirety of the mad-scientists lair set on an oil rig - a ripe location for puzzle design - is told in a disjointed cutscene followed by an end credits crawl. This setting is the entire third act of the movie so it's bizarre that we only get a couple of CGI shots at the end. As such, the entire game is set on the docks of the French fishing town and ends just when it begins to get exciting.

So The City of Lost Children is something of a missed opportunity, cut short before anything interesting had even begun. I suspect there may have been more planned, including a traditional point-and-click control scheme but this was at a time when Sony had bought Psygnosis and demanded all of their games to get a simultaneous release on the PlayStation. The PlayStation's controller was probably the inciting factor to go with tank controls too, taking development time away from actually completing the game but that's just my hypothesis. As it is, The City of Lost Children - much like the movie - could have been a lot better.


To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on and Windows 10.

File Size: 371 Mb.  Install Size: 558 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download

Watch the video review below!



The City of Lost Children (the game) is © Psygnosis
The City of Lost Children (the movie) is © StudioCanal
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/jack-in-dark.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-residents-bad-day-at-midway.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2019/06/chronicles-of-sword.html


27 comments:

  1. Great, thanx and looks like first i have to watch the movie again.

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    1. That's something I highly recommend you do. It's a film I always wanted to be better - it has some confusing editing choices - but it's more coherent than the game.

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  2. Fun Fact:City Of Lost Children heavily inspired the likes of Thief 2:Metal Age and even Bioshock 1. It's deifnitely a pretty obscure film that inspired some influential titles in the gaming landscape.

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  3. Art direction of the movie is divine but as a movie adaptation released at same year with Blade Runner
    expect some better gameplay than this.

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  4. Nice! I was curious about this game. The review gave me a little film education as well, which you don't get in most game reviews. (Loved Amelie and Delicatessen.)

    These controls were indeed tricky at first, but I soon got the hang of them. Unfortunately, I got stuck soon after the beginning. All the walkthroughs I have seen say that the old man outside the classroom should give me a key when I talk to him. Instead, when I talk to him and ask for his help, he just says, "That's your problem, kid. Do it yourself." I hate getting stuck in the beginning, because I can't tell whether the game is buggy or I'm just being thick. I'll keep trying things, but it doesn't look like I'm getting anywhere... :(

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    1. I hate getting stuck in the beginning...

      This. :-)

      It surely belongs to one of the most frustrating game-wise situations if you're being held back from an early story progress just because you've overseen a stupid little detail that might make for a undeserved temporary cluelessness. Which usually isn't based on the intellect of the common advanced Adventure game player, but much more due to losing sight of the wood for the trees. Happens to the most clever of us, ain't it?

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    2. Yes it does, but in my case, getting stuck is usually down to the intellect of the player. Remember the time when I thought Zombeaver didn't have Chronomaster in the Zomb's Lair site, because I looked at the flaunted "Latest" games on the front page, instead of the Index?... Hey, come on, that's mean! There's no reason to bring that up.

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    3. Objection, Your Honor, because getting stuck in the beginning, as you wrote it in your initial statement, at a time when puzzles usually aren't challenging, I think that it can't be blamed on the common advanced Adventure game player's intellect per se (which often tends to be above average), if it fails at such an early stage within the game - what either can be a sign of suboptimal game design then, or the player is sporadically infected by the "absentminded professor" syndrome, if you know what I mean. Besides, having a temporary so-called "board in front of the head" or "tachometers for eyes" doesn't take intellect into general consideration, if you ask me.

      By the way, your given desperately-seeking-for-Chronomaster-at-Zomb's-Lair-with-no-luck is, in my humble opinion, a prime example for my "(temporarily) absentminded professor" or "wood for the trees" theory, respectively. Which then again is nothing you should seriously worry about. :-)

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    4. The shambles is compounded by the fact that Biffman even mentioned in his review (including his video review) that I could talk to the schoolmarm to get an extra line of dialogue. However, that was a splendid set of excuses you gave me, being an expert at suppressing Schadenfreude. I could use them some time.

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    5. Ease up on yourself, James! :-) Indeed, you really shouldn't judge yourself so harshly for having overlooked a single interaction that would have led you to the solution of said puzzle. Perhaps it was just your daily form that didn't show itself in its best light when you've taken your first steps into the game. Please also note that it had been the game's seemingly quirky controls of which you had to get used to at first - and in turn maybe took away a bit of your concentration that you'd have normally spend on seeing the (not so) obvious. So if I'm letting you know once more that you shouldn't mind/blame yourself about something minor like that due to my previously mentioned small theses, I can assure you that my spiritual mainspring for insisting on it isn't based on any form of "Schadenfreude", but because I'm serious with you and without the slightest piece of irony being involved.

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

      P.S. Sorry, Biff - and no hard feelings -, but I'm not so fond of the City Of Lost Children franchise in general; nonetheless, two thumbs up again for your passionate doings! :-)

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    6. That was elucidated so well! I wish native English speakers could talk like that. (Maybe Stephen Fry and one or two others still do.) Yes, I do need to walk and talk with more pride; your analysis of my character is correct. But I know that you do not speak from Schadenfreude. Wir haben bereits früher festgestellt, dass sich nur englischsprachige Personen dem hingeben. Ich musste das Wort nur irgendwie in einem Satz verwenden! Wie andere liebe ich es zu sehr.

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    7. So because you had to embed one of your favoured words - namely the "English-ized" German based term Schadenfreude - into your message at any price, you sacrificed it on the altar of the obsolete just like that? ;-) Anyway, joking aside, I really think that when it comes to the crucial question if he or she has a soft spot for Schadenfreude, it depends on the respective individuum much rather than from which nation that person originates. And of which I believe, by the way, that no one is totally immune against. As in the people's wisdom: "An open door may tempt a saint". On occasion, at least. But wasn't your fine German representation of Schadenfreude and the finding that only English native speakers would devote themselves to it, an exaggerated expression in the first place anyway? ;-)

      Shame on me, but it wasn't until you were bringing up that famous jack-of-all-trades that I "wikipedia'd" Stephen Fry, which had been a name I just knew from hearsay before. Mea culpa. But since you've buttered me up so charmingly by telling me through the flower that I'd be talking, so to say, like a German Stephen Fry - which would be far too much of an honour -, I'm asking you: How much Stephen Fry is to be found in you? Because it wouldn't be without platonic attraction to talk to my mirrored English Alter Ego, as you paraphrased it. Which again I regard as fantasy, but since I'm afraid that you insist, I wouldn't want to deny your sophisticated flattery. :-)

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    8. I'm ashamed to inform you that it wasn't an exaggeration to talk about the English love of the word Schadenfreude. The most egregious use of the word recently came in 2018, when multiple tabloid papers blared the word on their front-page headlines after Germany was unexpectedly knocked out of the World Cup early by South Korea. This match had nothing whatsoever to do with English viewers, but they carry a big chip on their shoulders because Germany has won four World Cups and England has only won one.

      Am I like Stephen Fry? Gosh, I don't think so. I don't talk with such a plummy accent anyway, which is why I mentioned him. I'm not a jack-of-all-trades either, although I could twist words to call myself a "polymath", just because I have a politics degree and a maths degree. (There are more legitimate polymaths or Renaissance men, such as Biffman, who can excel in diverse fields such as computing and writing.) My general knowledge is good, but not all-encompassing like quizmaster Stephen Fry. And finally, I am not married to a much younger man. Although, hmm, maybe I should aspire to such a relationship: I'm sure it would force me to keep fit and healthy, to look good beside him. If I could marry any man in his 20s right now, I would undoubtedly want to marry the star of the upcoming Dune film, Timothee Chalamet. But apparently people of all genders and ages want to marry him, so I'll just stick to enjoying his films.

      So, maybe I am a pale imitation of Stephen Fry. I really should have compared your writing style to Henning Wehn though, since the words are probably spoken with a strong German accent, not a plummy English accent. I can't tell when reading them. (You may not know Wehn, as he has been a UK resident for decades, but he is the "German Comedy Ambassador in London".)

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    9. It was none other than one of England's incarnated national sports treasures Gary Lineker who was quoted as saying right after the lost semi-final match against Germany during Soccer World Cup 1990: "Soccer is a simple game. 22 men are hunting for a ball 90 minutes long, and in the end it's always the Germans who're winning." So it is also due to statements like this that your fellow countrymen will always have my fullest understanding for Schadenfreude when it comes to any elimination of the German soccer team in whatever Cup. Who could ever blame the English people for a thinking like that? ;-)

      Well, a pale imitation of Stephen Fry is still good enough for me, haha. Being gay, however, is something I don't share with this illustrious "Johnny on the spot", because I'm hetero thoroughly and therefore unable to feel an attractivity that goes beyond platonic emotions for men in general. Not even for someone like Timothée Chalamet or similar young guns in their 20s. Nonetheless, I think you have a good taste if you're into guys like him.

      Henning Wehn? At least his face rings a bell, and after having YouTube'd him by now, I can tell you that my accent is most likely stronger than his - if he even has a significant one. But in my defense, it must be stated that his lead over my own being-able-to-talk-to-English-native-speakers-on-a-regular-basis ratio amounts to uncountable hours, days and even years. And although I always give my best to hide my German accent, it hardly ever works, actually. ;-)

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    10. Lineker is a little bit outdated now. The Germans are always winning, yes, except when those dangerous Koreans are on the field ;) I noticed the word "platonic" in your previous post, and I knew what it meant because it is the same word in German and English, and even Greek! Strangely, it seems we both got thoroughly compared to Stephen Fry's character in this conversation, even though the original intent was only to look at formal, stilted styles of written or spoken English. I don't think a strong German accent would be worth hiding, just as when I go to America, I find my British accent is generally worth maintaining (except when I'm ordering a sandwich in a deli, where saying "lettuce and to-may-to" prevents surprised looks and makes things move quicker).

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    11. I'm still waiting for the moment when it'll be revealed via Football Leaks that your mentioned downfall of the German soccer team on that day was manipulated. Or do you really think my national team could have ever been haunted by mental and physical derangement? ;-)

      The deeper a conversation gets, the more it tends to take a life of its own from a certain point on, along with all kinds of twists and turns like it started to happen when we began talking about Stephen Fry. In fact, when I was asking you how much of Mr. Fry can be found inside of you, I was primarily referring to the art of word and how much you possibly share with him in regard to that. And so the dialogue took its unexpected course...

      I'm sorry, but your little "lettuce" insider joke totally passes me be, because I simply don't get the meaning of it; which then again is probably due to my non-native English speaking origin. But maybe you wanna enlighten that uninitiated part within me?

      I guess it can be rewarding to hide a strong German accent, unless you wanna audition for the German cliché of a bad guy in one of those (in)glorious B-pictures, where German characters oftenly sound subtly silly when speaking English. And which always makes me quietly smiling. Eventually, a little self-irony never harmed anyone. ;-)

      Well, I think we should slowly but surely come to an end of this fine conversation here, because I suspect that it'll be just a matter of time until Biff raises the yellow card (not towards Lineker, but us), and we certainly don't want to impose his hospitality. :-)

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

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    12. You may know there are minor differences in pronunciation (and even spelling) between American and British English, e.g. Americans call tomatoes "to-may-toes", while Brits say "to-mah-toes". I was saying that it helps to suppress the British accent in America if one wants speed in sandwich-making, but otherwise, it's better to keep it. Trying to suppress a German accent would also be pointless today. Those WWII stereotypes are outdated. In fact, if I remember correctly, the big WWII films from 2017, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, didn't even feature any German characters! I guess they would have been difficult to do today.

      I would have thought the name Tomas is more common in Germany. However, I know that Thomas exists too, and if that is your name, that's fine.

      At least we did start out by talking about City of Lost Children!

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    13. Yeah, of course! :-) Now that I'm at the scene due to your little briefing on the differences between the phonetically American "tomaytoes" and their British counterparts "tomahtoes", it is falling like scales from my eyes. Because beforehand, I was reading your previously written "to-may-to" as three independent single words, without having had the slightest idea that in fact it was the American phonetic spelling for "tomatoe" which you meant. Indeed, there's definitely a contrast between Oxford- and American English that can't be overheard. And your given "tomatoe" example is just one among countless others which actually make the difference. Comparable with two dialects like those being used in two different adjoining German federal states whose slangs differ a bit among each other.

      Personally, I think that the lust for German WWII characters is hard to kill, even nowadays when either real persons originating from that time period are getting seriously portrayed in oftenly European Arthouse sort of movies [my recommendations: The Captain (2017) and The 12th Man (2017)]; or they come in shape of WWII German zombies who have even given birth to an own genre long time ago and still give me the creeps to this day, haha. [My recommendations here: Outpost (2008) and Overlord (2018)].

      Regarding my name Thomas (which comes with an "h" in it, indeed), I can assure you that this is the correct German orthography of that name (as well as it is in Britain and America); however, if someone introduces himself as "Tomas", you automatically associate it with a person coming from outside Germany, Great Britain or America.

      Bye for now,
      Thomas

      P.S. "At least we did start out by talking about City of Lost Children!". Haha, damn right, you are. Maybe we can use that argument for mitigating circumstances? ;-) Nonetheless, this message of mine (or a closing one of yours) surely wouldn't be the worst by which we could bring this conversation to a satisfactory end. So with this in mind, I'll be seeing you back most likely in one of the next threads! Hold the fort until then, James! :-)

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    14. Thanks for the recommendations: I had already heard good things about the Nazi zombie films. Incidentally, I mentioned those two big Oscar films from 2017 to make a point about modern German representation, or lack thereof, but that doesn't mean I was recommending them. Dunkirk is a great action film on the big screen, much less so on the small screen. It also has weak characterisations, but I disagree with Biffman's review that this matters, because they were always meant to be everyman characters ("Tommy" is the name for a generic British soldier). Darkest Hour is a deeply, deeply annoying film. It is a hagiography of a historical figure, with zero light and shade. I would have liked to hear Mr Churchill use his eloquent tongue to explain why he found the German desire to build an empire in Europe to be evil (fair enough), but considered empire-building on other continents to be justified, and indeed noble. I hope we will one day see a complex, nuanced film about Churchill, but as a nation, the British haven't reached that level of maturity yet.

      I recommend the seven Oscar Best Picture nominees of 2017: obviously the ones featuring my favourite actor, but the others too. It was a strong year. We both have a lot to watch during this pandemic.

      And a lot of adventure games to play, too! (We haven't forgotten about them.)

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    15. the *other* seven, I meant... (there were nine nominees -- minus the two I mentioned)

      Anyway, that's it.

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  5. No mouse input,truncated indeed and get stuck same as above.

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  6. Wait, I've solved the problem! Ah, it feels good to solve a problem, even though it might have been caused by poor game design. Apparently, I must talk to the teachers first before leaving the classroom, and they will tell me to ask the old man outside for a key. Without this step, I suppose the grouchy old man doesn't know that I know he has the key, so has no incentive to give it up to me - if that makes sense (twisting myself into knots to defend the game's logic).

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  7. Thank You Very much. I play in it at night - atmospheric ! :D

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  8. Thanks a lot,could you upload Dogday?

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  9. I already requested DogDay a while ago. The Request List says it is working, and I believe Biffman said he will do it eventually. That may take a long time though, so don't be on tenterhooks waiting for it.

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  10. I will have to try this one!

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  11. I am trying to run a game called Mystery of the Nautilus on Windows 10 from an ISO file. It is a Windows 98 game and does not work on Win 10. Could you advise on which program would be best to get it to run on Win 10? Thanks.

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