"Vee haff vays of making adfenture games!"
Some of us in the gaming community wallow fondly in that happy place, the past. In those bygone days of yore, the adventure game still reigned supreme, and it refuses to die the death that many have tried to condemn it to. Among those keeping it alive are those in the AGS community (including the Escapist's own Yahtzee), tirelessly churning out games of the ilk that remind us that games don't have to be made by EA, don't need ragdoll physics, and don't need specular lighting. They can tell a story. In this case, the story is that brought to us by Le Woltaire, in what was a surprise Christmas treat for the AGS community: A Second Face: The Eye of Geltz is Watching Us
A brief snippet outlines the basic premise of the story:
In the infinity of space there is a planet with two faces turning around an old, white sun to which it always shows the same side. The other is enveloped in total darkness.
On each face life has developed in a different way. The bright side is inhabited by people who call themselves Strefis, the illuminated ones, while the dark side is populated by the Ugeltz, the people of night.
No Ugeltz has ever seen a Strefis however each civilisation remembers the other, in legends.
The game starts you off as Rabbok, one of the two sons of the elderly king of the Ugeltz, both tasked with resolving the impending energy crisis. The Kingdom's main source of energy, a black liquid known as "the margin", is becoming depleted. The King believes that the mythical dwellers of the other side of the planet, the Strefis, hold the answer to their problems. While some in the kingdom dismiss this as myth and fantasies of an old man, your investigations as the wiser of his two sons lead you to find out more about the two ancient peoples.
While modern indie adventure games are often very reminiscent of Sierra or Lucasarts' classics (King's Quest and Monkey Island, for example), Second Face brings its own unique flavour. In a game of permanent darkness, the remarkable result of a detailed community is an impressive feat, and the stark, minimalist architecture lines of the upper city add to the ambience. The attention to detail in the game is remarkable also, as NPCs make their way around, gawking at the market, drinking in the bar, and...erm...whipping each other in the temple.
For such a short game (shouldn't take much longer than an hour or so, if you're experienced with adventure games), it manages to pack a great deal of story into itself. With a medium such as adventure games, storytelling isn't sidelined at the expense of other activities. Although adventure games are sometimes cursed with tedious and illogical item-combining and pixel-hunting, the usual mistakes of this genre have been avoided, and an innovative style even introduced.
The controls are simple, especially for those who've played adventures before (if you haven't, why the hell not?), with a mixture of verb-coin for actions, and a parser for conversations. While not stooping to ridiculous distance of some parser games (Facade, anyone?), it does require remembering a few plot details to ask the characters about. Impressively, they manage to come up with individual reponses for many topics, lacking the generic "I don't know about that" of some adventures.
On the topic of conversations, this game also has the benefit of being voiced, but only for cutscenes. This is a boon in this case, as it cuts the size of the game, and reduces the amount of clicking through monotonous sound in-game, saving the speech for important moments. While I'm not capable of judging the quality of the speech of the German soundtrack, the English one is...interesting. Some of the emphasis in the wrong place here and there, but not in a way that detracts from any meaning, and perhaps adds to the somewhat alien quality of the environment.
While initially a little buggy, these were fixed by Le Woltaire shortly after release. The Prince's walk cycle seems a little wooden, but this has not detracted from an otherwise excellent independent production. To put a large amount of pressure on a production like this would be unfair, with the majority of the work done by one person, and a fun and rewarding result from it. Especially since it's given away for free!
Some might accuse makers of adventures of artificially elongating games by adding mazes, as this one has later in the game, but at least it carries it off well, with a 3D game of lights-out opening and closing entrances. When the ending does eventually arrive, it seems rather irksome that the story has to stop, but at least a sequel is already in the works.
Because of this, I wholeheartedly recommend anyone who calls themself a gamer to give A Second Face a go, and you can find it here:
Download "A Second Face: The Eye of Geltz is Watching Us"
It's free, you can complete it in an hour and a bit (unless you have absolutely no understanding of logic), and if you're stuck, the AGS forums are a good source of tips for getting past the puzzles. Even if you can't handle puzzles, the story makes a nice change from generic Nazis/zombies/robots/cars/aliens invading. If you're a fan of adventure games (like Yahtzee's Trilby games, for example), then this is a must-play. If you've never played one before, then you could do worse than have this as your starting point. If you don't like adventure games, why on earth are you still reading?
But enough from me - I've said it's good, and I'm obviously biased. Give it a go and see for yourself!
Have a nice day, and may the Eye of Geltz watch over you.
(Not recommended for kids under 12 due to graphic nudity, violence, drug use, phallic imagery, etc etc etc)