After The 7th Guest showcased the technical possibilities of the CD-ROM technology, will Trilobye Games’ sequel The 11th Hour be a progressive step forward in storytelling and game design with a more mature approach?
The 11th Hour (PC)
(USA 1995, developer: Trilobyte Games, publisher: Virgin Interactive (defunct), platform: PC)
Paranormal TV investigator Carl Denning tries to find his missing producer and former lover Robin Morales who seems to have been investigating a series of strange and bloody happenings around the haunted mansion of toymaker Henry Stauf.
More videos, but also more story?
The story is a bit more engaging than in the original The 7th Guest, mainly because the player wants to know what Robin found out and if Carl is able to find her. The former story part is first told in short flashbacks Carl gets to see when consulting the Game Book (a portable computer) which also functions as as a hint system. This adds another meta-level to proceedings, because these glimpses into the past and hints are given to him by a mysterious third party who looks at Carl’s actions from outside with a computer. In contrast to its predecessor, the game has a chapter structure with each new hour presenting more and more story segments which are first shown as small anachronistic videos and then finally combined in a very long sequence. This makes the plot more interesting and suspenseful, even though it turns out to be quite a narrative mess of demonic possession, abuse, murder and other horrible things.
Where The 7th Guest put an emphasis on a PG13-like presentation, The 11th Hour ups the ante with gratuitous sex, violence and gore scenes (although there seems to exist an even more violent version at least in script form but which was scrapped in the final production). There’s still a bit of creepy atmosphere to be found, and some disturbing morph sequences are reminiscent of the former title, but this time the adult content is more than a little bit over-the-top and therefore feels more forced than necessary to the plot or character development, as both are lacking in substance. It’s also questionable why one would have to watch isolated story segments which don’t even make any more sense when put together at the end of a chapter, especially as they have nothing to do with the actual gameplay. Motivation to experience the story in this way is further hindered by characters which have no redeeming features about them to make the player like them or actually care about them. There is less overacting this time around, but this doesn’t mean the actors are any good either. The tongue-in-cheek approach of the original is sadly missing, being replaced by a wannabe R-rated TV schlockfest which isn’t that scary or revolting than it thinks it is.
Same old walk in the puzzle park with lots of stops
Again gameplay consists of solving various logic puzzles located at different places in the Stauf mansion. But these have to be found first, a puzzle in itself. It’s recommendable that the player is not left alone to walk around aimlessly in the hope to find a door he or she can open. But unfortunately, the hints the Game Book gives are still very cryptic, because they are basically anagrams which describe an object to be found somewhere in the house. This then has to be clicked on to unlock a short video or to give more clues of where to go next. To complicate matters, there are lots of objects littering the rooms which have no purpose other than offering a snippish remark from Stauf. Usually, these environmental objects can only be touched after some puzzles have been solved, making it a tedious game of guessing where all the different types of furniture are. It’s a good thing then that the hint system gives more and more clues until it offers the final solution, although one still has to remember where these objects are located.
The difficulty of the puzzles again varies from hard to increasingly devious, especially when it comes to playing against Stauf in the AI games. These were already a pain in the original, so it’s even more frustrating to find them in an even higher number here. Not even the Game Book is able to solve these, but it simply tries to make single moves for the player… which unfortunately can also result in failures. There isn’t much one can say about the individual puzzles other than that they’re even more incongruous with the story than in the original The 7th Guest. At least, the overall idea of the inventor Stauf asking his guests to solve puzzles to fulfil their dreams made sense there, but here the gameplay is disconnected from the actual story.
Looking and sounding like ageing dust
Technology at least has moved a step forward, even if the improved video quality looks less than stellar today and the game lacks the same catchy tunes and memorable ditties of the original. Special effects range from the badly-aged to the disgustingly-realistic hand-made gore which is actually quite satisfying for fans of the horror genre. It’s also nice to finally skip the long movement sequences, although navigating through the mansion is still not easy, considering that the map only allows to immediately jump to specific locations after having completed the game. What’s even more annoying is that there are constant freezes and crashes to the desktop when watching the videos, something which is even more aggravating after having spend a fair amount of time solving a certain puzzle and then having to sit through a 10-minutes long compilation of videos one already had an isolated glimpse at before.
Average game or bad movie?
The 11th Hour is gameplay-wise very similar to The 7th Guest in so far that solving logic puzzles to unlock more story sequences in videos is only partly rewarding, as both plot and characters aren’t that great. It’s easy to see that Trilobyte Games tries to tell a more mature story, but it ends up with adult content for the simple sake of being controversial, which it only achieves to a certain degree. The puzzle design is a mixed bag of some fun even if not original, but mostly frustratingly difficult conundrums. It might look and control better than the original, but it certainly doesn’t play any better, making for another example of a slightly entertaining C horror movie hiding a rather D(ull) game.
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