Release date: 08/2005
Developer/publisher: Unimatrix Productions
Game language: Englisch
No age rating
A review by André 27th August 2005(Translated by slydos)
Normally, if I walk to the mail box, my mood is rather subdued. My gait is intimidated and my face grumpy to depressed, because I have made the experience that things, which usually can be found in mail boxes, are of rather negative nature in the very most cases, i.e. invoices, ads of insurances and shyloks or the like.
When I opened my mail some days ago, my temper however rises abruptly and my gaze adopted those elated to readily manic lineaments, one can always read in my face, if something positive happens to me. In this case the good mail came from the USA, more precisely Chicago, in form of a package. The sender read Christopher M. Brendel, in his capacity as developer of finest independent adventure games, and the contents was his latest work named Shady Brook, already longingly expected by me.
A man speaks into his dictaphone. He warns newcomers and advises them to leave his town - Shady Brooks - as fast as possible. In the following scene the silhouettes of some strangers appear, and the last words the man launches out, are that they'd found him.
Next scene: A car rushes along the highway, you hear relaxing country music. In the car the writer Jake Tobin and his blind father Wayne. Their destination: Shady Brooks, where the two have rented a house. The game begins ...
... it begins and there is so much to discover, because the game environment is very extensive and the area, i.e. Shady Brook, looks so large at first sight, that I spent the first gaming evening as a start walking around town in order to become familiar with the different characters and contact points, without something special to happen. The perspectives were not always chosen particularly favourable, so that I (but only at the beginning) needed some time to get along. It's recommendable to draw a map. We get one, but it's somewhat blurred and unhandy. Besides, in a self-drawn map one can gradually enter further, not automatically registered locations as well as the associated characters and information.
Another highlight are the changing times of day. They change, as soon as we've settled all necessary things within one time period. This not only adds variety to the game but also vitality. And finally - isn't such a deserted town much creepier at night? Already in the first night a surprise drops in to give the first chapter a very exciting end. But that is only the beginning, because in the further game process dramatic events will happen, which get under your skin and have really touched me! It would be unfair to betray something here - only this much: Thanks to the deep and serious story Shady Brook is more than a simple horror game!
The style of Christopher M. Brendel's games is unmistakable - particularly well to spot by the people's characteristic facial features and already recognized on the basis of the first screenshots on the internet that the game could only be created by him. Because Jake Tobin - the protagonist of Shady Brook - also reminds a little bit of the main character of the last game, only that we now embody a tougher guy with longer hair in style of a Kurt Cobain instead of the honest preacher's son. Particularly nice to observe was, how the characters' meaningful and sensitive facial expressions in some close-ups show every single emotion creating an atmosphere of the highest suspense.
The game was again created with Adventure Maker. It's noticeable here like in its predecessor too, that the characters are animated almost as perfect as done in commercial games starting with body movements up to lip-synch - while one still recognizes backgrounds like mountainscapes with really rough textures still representing an independent adventure, even if they turn out substantially better than in the last game. Some rooms of Tobin's house for example look very well designed, so that you won't hesitate to make yourself comfortable there immediately. The cutscenes are gorgeous too. They look noticeably developed with no more blurred transitions still ocurring in Lifestream. Despite or maybe because of the charm of a not yet 100% perfection the graphics do fascinate me again from the start. I can't help myself, but like Lifestream once again a Gabriel-Knight-3-atmosphere is created from the first scene in the village without even thinking one minute of plagiarism in this context.
Very exemplary: after a problem-free installation just before starting the game one is asked whether one would like to play with a few action sequences or in pure adventure mode. That's great and should be copied, because each player can make his/her individual proper choice. Likewise one is asked whether one would like to play the version with or without (relative harmless) sex and violence scenes. This freedom of choice is very felicitous either. IMPORTANT: It is in any case advisable to select the harder version since otherwise one might miss some important key scenes!
Unfortunately for all players, whose English is so-so, there are again (nearly) no sub-titles. Since there is only this English international version, sub-titles would have surely helped understanding, particularly as there is plenty of character interaction this time.
Concerning the marketing, Brendel is by the way quite efficient. For a few extra dollars one can procure an additional Companion, thus a guide book. The numerous character profiles are described in the A4-sized booklet for better understanding. A walkthrough is also included. Further screenshots are proudly presented, as well as a very interesting interview with John Bell, a remarkable dubbing artist, who has alredy spoken many adventure games. Up to the first page the booklet (because of the costs) is only in black-and-white. General layout doesn't leave a doubt that the creator took much care. For me the manual was very helpful in various regards and I cannot only recommend it to those, who like me, don't feel hundred percent sure about their English.
In one matter Brendel strives apparently for the big companies as a few days after release of the game already a patch (only for the adventure mode) was published, which can be downloaded if necessary. And with another teething trouble this game either has to fight: one should adjust the brightness of the monitor to the highest level. Anyhow there were problems to recognize all objects.
Actually handling is optimal with very easy point & click controls, as you find them in nearly every adventure of this kind in similar form. It's well functioning innovatively and actually needs no further explanation.
The musical score immediately 'jumped' into my ear. It is really remarkable. Relaxing Country Music underlines the roadmovie feeling in the first minutes of the game, when the Tobins enter the village with their car. Later quiet piano sounds spread a slightly dark and melancholic atmosphere and announce the coming of ominous events. And in a bar we can listen to - of course - most relaxing bar music. The voice actors were selected absolutely professional with distinctive voices, e.g. the thundering voice of our protagonist. By the way the dialogues at the beginning partially sounded a bit strange to me. At least I would have reacted more reserved to the personal questions of our hero during the first meeting. Well, but it helps us at least to get an impression of the village life.
As is the case in old Sierra games there is a scoring system. Incentivizing and motivating, if you can watch your success by point increase while puzzling. There are again various kinds of tasks e.g. ro open combination locks or filling over liquids, until one has the right measure. Of course one must find and use many objects, whereby inventory items such as newspaper articles can be examined in close-ups with a special function. A box, that must be cracked, requires different approaches of solutions. Here e.g. needles must be correctly applied and found notes must be interpreted. Generally it makes sense to take notes if one discovers some inconspicuous numbers on a paper.
And not least one must master some dexterity tasks like a game of billiard. I enjoyed such games very much, particularly since the adventure even continues, if one couldn't finish the sequence successfully! And there are some few time-dependent situations to master, if one, like me, hasn't selected the pure adventure mode, but the mode with above mentioned action elements. However this tasks are nearly all of very moderate degree of difficulty and in my opinion easy to finish. Only the pipe-game was too difficult in my eyes, because of the very limited time.
I admit, before starting the game, I had certain expectations and fortunately they were by far exceeded. With Shady Brook the team around Brendel made another step from independent to professional production. Only few teething troubles cloud the general impression like the patch (however only needed in pure adventure mode) as well as some hardly recognizable objects. In addition it would be really nice to fade in sub-titles for English-weak Krauts like me. However - Shady Brook succeeds to create a unique atmosphere, partially due to the really unusual, moving and creepy story. And graphically the game improved substantially compared to its predecessor. Numerous exciting cutscenes with some impressing close-ups and varied puzzles push the story line and complete the general good impression. If I rate it as high as 84 % now, then also, because I honour the quasi one-man work of an independent developer, even if this hardly carries weight any more because of the professionalism and the wonderful design. Concerning fun and suspense Shady Brook can keep up easily with commercial products anyway.
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)
- IBM PC Pentium III 1 GHz
- Windows 98/2000/ME/XP
- 516 MB RAM
- 350 MB hard disk
- 640x480 resolution
- 24-bit color graphic card
- Windows-compatible sound card and mouse
- Macromedia Flash Player
- Win XP
- AMD Athlon XP 1800
- 512 MB RAM
- Graphic card Radeon 9200 series
Hard drive 60 GB