Game language: German
USK: 16 years and up
A review by slydos 31st January 2006
Before Rondomedia has taken care of the game, Scratches was - as a debut feature of Nucleosys - an average independent game with fair graphics, at least what one could see in the demo. But still a lot was polished since that time and what the Argentine developers and the German publisher were able to do, they did.
The spooky adventure game surprises for example with a beautiful mini retail box covered with creepy aluminium foil reflections on black background and harboring a just as user-friendly as clearly laid out, multicolored, glossy manual with 12 pages beside an illustrious credits list and a coupon for the Hamburg Dungeon. For minimalists the CDROM is again kept in a DVD box.
The installation worked without any errors as well as the entire game made absolutely no technical problems at all. I have heard of some starting problems of other players, which should be get fixed by a patch that Nocleosys is already working on, but my 3 years old standard computer and Scratches were good friends. The 482 MB got installed fast and fast you dig deep into the game after a movie-style intro (can be skipped with ESC) but you can also first change some options using the main menu links before beginning the game, like screen gamma, surround effects, switch music on/off or speed of camera and text insertions. In addition it's possible to allow on-line game hints. But that only shows effect at the beginning, in order to facilitate handling and first steps for the gamers.
Michael Arthate is writer of horror stories. After the success of his first book he wants to move to the country on inspiration purposes. He commissioned his friend and estate agent Jerry Carter to find a suitable, lonely mansion so that he can finish his second novel. Jerry did what he could do and found him an abandoned property near the small town Rothbury in Northumberland. On a foggy day of the year 1976 Michael arrives there with his Austin Mini. That's how this traditional, but by no means unthrilling haunted house story begins.
And typically this abandoned, run-down manor house in Victorian-style has an undiscovered history, which Michael uncovers piece for piece and typically uncanny and unexplainable things happen during the course of the story. An old however functional telephone is Michael's line to the outside world. Beyond that he is all by himself carrying his little suitcase and the typewriter while searching for the room which was prepared for him and learning about the inherintance of the former inhabitants at the same time ...
If I intend to move into a remote house miles from anywhere, then I would take along at least some food and household assets. But dear Michael apparently relies totally on his estate agent friend and also has neither hunger nor thirst for days. Well, perhaps I would have been off my feed too, if I had seen the contents of the refrigerator, in a house, which had been reportedly cleaned by a charwoman.
Not to talk about actions, which the self-proclaimed rain-dread Michael then nevertheless employs, without waiting for the wet and cold weather to change.
People on photos wear clothes from the turn of the century, although they lived at the beginning of the 60's, the lady of the house still was primipara at the age of 51 - respect!
And in the 70s of last century even in Northumberland a directory assistance and taxis surely existed, which would have simplified a lot of things.
Humor and suspense - does that get along? In principle allusions about other adventure games are relaxing. In the library of the house we find various books with such allusions and Michael's comments sound reserved ironical. In the cellar, where Michael begins to tremble because of the weird noises - and it's a really exciting situation - we must listen to an apparently inevitable allusion to Broken Sword 3's pushing boxes! Most welcome defusing, if you are the heebie-jeebie-type, but a break of suspense, if you wish lasting thrill.
So interesting and exciting the story appears first, so well explained certain game actions or non-actions are, so unsatisfying the end. Simply too many, fundamental clarifications of facts are missing. Not that I would generally mind obscure ends, which invite cleverly planned to reflect, but Scratches ended simply too fast and unfunded.
There are only 10 save slots, which are automatically filled with a text line including game location and time.
Scratches is a 1st-person-adventure game. You move by standard point&click in a 3D panorama view, where you can turn continously around your axis and pivot upward or down. Who likes it better, can however use the keyboard controls. Even extreme view points are puzzle relevant too!
The nearer the screen edges, the faster the movement. The players only behold small screen windows of the total panorama. Always turn around! Otherwise you could miss something important. A room or a scene in Scratches has usually different camera perspectives. Objects may be manipulable from another point of view.
A hand with extended forefinger indicates changes of scenes or perspectives. The icon cursor is of readily identifiable size and changes into a hand with magnifying glass, if we can zoom into an area. You often zoom into fixed screen ranges. If you see the magnifying glass cursor this may also mean that you can use an inventory object here. There are no descriptive screen texts during mouse contact, only when using the left mouse button we get informed about hotspots by Michael's thoughts and comments showing up as text line at the bottom of the screen. These texts are not spoken.
Scratches has got easy controls, you'll hardly need the on-line hints or the manual. A little uncomfortable was however the inventory handling in the long run: The right mouse button opens the screen-filling inventory, which one must reopen again and again after unsuccessful attempts, to select the same or a new object. Presuming you carry, among other things, 2 screwdrivers, 2 pliers, 1 hook, 1 crowbar, a knife and a carpenter's hammer, and want to repair for example something in the cellar, it may result in almost unending clicks!
Even if you are successful, comments or visible hints are suggested too rarely. I had to check the inventory often whether an object was still there. One can combine objects just the same within the inventory as outside, the combination result can be verified with the magnifying glass, displaying a describing text of the new object. I would have wished for an additional enlargement function by the magnifying glass which is inventory object from the start.
Regarding puzzles Scratches truely scores: they are imaginative and fresh and trust in the players thinking along engrossed in the story. Usually you can find hints, but those are partly subtle. If you walk through the game with open eyes, and not always expect straight tips, you should cope with the game's logic. However I must say that I solved 2 puzzles, without a true incentive. So that's possible too, because Scratches is not as linear, as it seems at first sight. Linear, because you simply need a trigger in certain situations, to get the clock in the hall ahead what opens the door for more puzzles. Nonlinear, because one can prepare several puzzles, before it's really necessary. Once however the dependence on a certain, I would say unimportant, trigger at a different location was not reasoned and I was surprised, why I could not start a certain pending puzzle, which was necessary for the game to continue.
To 90% the game is a matter of object/inventory puzzles. But usually combined with interpretations of the environment, pictures, documents, observations or dialogue contents. At the beginning we find an easy degree of difficulty, the further we advance, the fewer the hints what can be done next. I would call 2 puzzles difficult. The entire pool of puzzles is lifted on a middle difficulty level by a high hotspot-factor, i.e. by many, not game-relevant interactive screens areas one is diverted from the really important points of action. Therefore it is very difficult to indicate a middle game length for Scratches. I have finished the game after approx. 13 hours without the use of a walkthrough, and got stuck in several situations, what demanded repeated, painstaking search of most scenes. It can easily happen, that you spend 15-20 hours with Scratches. I don't account Scratches as a game for novices. Adventure beginners should play Syberia, Nibiru and some others of this sort and should then return to Scratches. They will then have more fun. By the way there are no GameOvers and no dexterity or action elements.
The atmosphere is brought to the right creepy level with excellent thrilling music and a number of spooky sound effects. There are some dramaturgic well set nerve-racking scenes either. A single harp-ting at the right place and you'll quiver! But it won't approximate the perfect spooky atmosphere of Darkfall 1+2, because the sound effects are often a permanent gushing instead of pointed, selected shocks or partly were omitted in favor of a text like "Somewhere I heard strange scratching. My knees began to tremble." Somehow the makers never dared to push it to the limit always busy with backpedalling. Classified as 'comfortable tamed thrill'.
I was favourably surprised by the voice acting: Michael was very suitable dubbed - as already announced - by Marcus Off (Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean) and I was additionally pleased about F-J. Steffens (police inspector) as I now know, who has spoken AM in "I have no Mouth..."!
I had also expected the dubbing of Michael's thought and comments. They however only appear as mute text lines. Only real spoken texts, i.e. the telephone calls, were actually synchronized, what is economical but quite legitimate. And this real dialogues succeeded quite well and perky, even there are only a few of them.
Surprising too, the graphics: If they weren't really professional in times of the demo release, you cannot complain with the finished game. The quality of the 3D-graphics as well as coloring, display details and movement style remind me strongly of former Index+ games as for example Dracula. There are really wonderfull designed details in every scene, which usually can be examined too. Hotspot areas are embedded subtly, small flowing animations enliven Michael's actions, for example opening a coffee grinder or lifting the telephone receiver.
All animations, film sequences and our own progressive motion are somewhat more blurred than the inactive, non-moving scene, which immediately and well co-ordinated regains sharpness, as soon as the movements end. The many well equipped scenes entice for examining and seem to contain nearly unlimited possibilities due to the 360-degrees-view. Sometimes I merely walked around the house, to determine whether I could glance through a window into a room that I'd visited before.
Since we must often move back and forth between the house and its environment, we should memorize the exact position of areas, corridors and windows to each other. The panorama view permits a certain disorientation (and is maybe meant to do so), which can be untangled by the later find of a floor plan. Further accolades apply to the German localization, because all relevant and many not game-relevant graphic texts were translated.
Nucleosys clearly follows suit Dark Fall. Only little is missing to equal its intuitive feeling when composing a mystery story. Puzzles, graphics, atmosphere very positively surprised me. Good on you, Rondomedia, to bring this horror adventure game to Germany.
My rating: 74 %
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
- Athlon-/Pentium II or similar processor with 1 GHz
- Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP
- 128 MB RAM
- 16 MB graphic card
- 16 Bit sound card
- CDROM- or DVD-drive
- DirectX 8.1 or 9.x-compatible hardware
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Soundcard DirectX-compatible
Arriving at Blackwood Manor
Sometimes Jerry calls
Strange glasses in the dining room
From the kitchen we can reach an otherwise inaccessible part of the garden
A lot of junk
Later you find some floor plans
At the age of 51 Mrs. Blackwood has given birth to a child after all!
We must visit the attic often
Which dark secret is hiding in the chapel?