#251 The 7th Guest

Posted: 16th August 2011 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

77th game played so far

Genre: Puzzle
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Trilobyte
Publisher: Virgin Interactive

The 7th Guest is a game that I’d always been curious about. Having seen flashes, I’d been reading up on it (and its sequel The 11th Hour) for some time before I had a chance to get and play it. By that time, I knew some details of the puzzles, making the game less challenging than what it might be… although it still wasn’t easy.

The 7th Guest is a horror puzzle game – that is to say, a puzzle game in a haunted house, with ghosts, unexpected sounds and scary music. It’s also 18 years old by now, making it unclear how this hold up.

Our Thoughts

This game is one of the two credited with the success of the CD-ROM drive. An impressive thing which explains how it has come to look so incredibly dated.

Before the days of any 3D use, having these pre-rendered visuals were the best you could get and even these graphics took some time to get at the time. Sounds, graphics, strange controls… yeah, this game does feel dated. The low technology options were even the reason this game became a horror game – the technology left a glow around the actors, making them look like ghosts. They decided to make use of that in setting up the story.

It’s an incredibly strange story which, due to the strange levelling of the dialogue and music, can be a bit lost on the player. (Although this could be our sound setup workaround, with Dosbox not mixing these the best way) As much as I know this game is a favourite of Jeroen’s I cannot help but be very critical of this title. I wouldn’t call this a favourite. The game and I just have a history of fascination. Fair enough.

However, I would like to clarify that this is not just because of the game’s age (although that is a large factor). In the end though this is one of those games that really feels split between what it is trying to do. On the one hand it is a pioneer in game story-telling, which is no mean feat, which feels lumbered by a series of difficult puzzles. On the other hand it supplies a good number of brain-teasers which is weighed down by an unrelated (and very weird) storyline. Also the game heckles you every now and then, which is annoying enough, but whenever it does you are unable to interact with the puzzle you are currently on. After a while it just gets tiresome.

In the end, it’s a combination you have to get used to, in a way. And it helps to check up a bit on this. If you know more of the story, the individual story scenes make more sense, and the puzzles unlock more parts of the… story puzzle. The story itself is creepy, enhanced by the house, where there are many small scenes that have no bearing on anything, but are there just to enhance the atmosphere. You’ll see hands trying to push out of the painting, white maidens floating around and the plates and cutlery on a table move around. The puzzles themselves vary between normal and unique, but all have a story- or horror-touch added to it. Whether it’s skulls and gravestones on a cake, or the face of your host Stauf that you need to change so he looks nice and normal again.

I have to hand it to the developers that they have succeeded in creating an impressive gaming atmosphere. But when it was once creepy it now borders on the kitsch where the only thing to now is eroded by the passage of time is the game’s puckish sense of humour. Also, the difficulty of the puzzles has yet to lose their sting. Far more difficult than what you find in many modern puzzlers. The age of the game breaks the immersion necessary for any horror to work, but in a puzzle game, it is the puzzles that matters. I knew these already, they’re not mine to judge, but they seemed to be difficult to solve sometimes, if Peter is anyone to judge by.

One of the first is, to me, the most ingenious of them all. It really is amazing how many words there are with only ‘y’ as it’s vowels. Having to make a sentence out of them is very hard if you don’t know where to go with them. The archaic wording added an extra twist to the proceedings. It’s the only way they could’ve made it work.

One small invention that worked well in the end is the cursor. While its changes can get annoying, since some are hard to determine where to click on things, it makes for a good way to show what’s where. Your generic pointer is a skeletal hand. In puzzles, your cursor turns into an eyeball (blue or brown). And puzzles are a skull with a pulsing brain. Slightly gross, but easy to pick up and fitting the theme.

The only time it gets unstuck is on the menu screen where the cursor, taking the form of a ouija board pointer, is very inaccurate. It’s worth remembering the pointer is the ‘eye’… but even then there’s no real feedback on what you’re selecting. Until you suddenly restart the game and you have to sit through all the cutscenes again. A one-time issue, obviously but saving is a good thing.

These days, there’s little here we don’t see elsewhere better. The only big thing now is the puzzles, which are as hard as ever. This game is on the list mainly because it was innovative and helped influence the path games have taken since. In terms of quality there are better things being dreamt up by game designers during their days at University but all gaming trends have to start somewhere.

Final Thoughts

If you’re curious, this game is now available for iPhone and iPad. And that’s probably the platform where it works best now. $3 for a game like this? A bargain, with the setting and excellent puzzles. Don’t expect any miracles… but it’s certainly great as a puzzler with some nice story added to it. And to be fair, this game has its own legacy in later puzzle games. In particular, the similarity to the Professor Layton games is undeniable (minus the horror) and in that sense, the genre continues to live on.

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