Why's my editor sent me out with my camera and notepad to this sleepy village in the depths of the country.
But wait - what was that noise? Like grating stone... It came from over there. Grave robbers? A burglars rendevouz? Spies? Let's have a look... Great Johosephal! A pit opens underneath my feet; the stench of rotting flesh overpowers my senses; in the moments before sanity leaves me, I catch a glimpse of something terrible, something obscene...
The Mystery of Arkham Manor is the latest adventure from Melbourne House - but if you think that means verb/noun two word instructions, then think again. Arkham Manor is a sophisticated menu-driven adventure, with animated graphics, plus a built-in and very simple Fleet Street Editor-type program all of its very own. Phew! What, all in one tape?
Complicated it may be, but it all fits together like a dream (in parts like a nightmare). The instructions you get to start you off are not exactly over detailed, consisting of one A4-sized fake 1920's newspaper. As far as I can work it out, the idea is that you're as much in the dark as you start to play the game as your character is supposed to be.
The game screen is divided into four areas. The top half contains a graphics window, in which a picture of your present location is displayed, along with whoever happens to be in it, and a menu, such as Move, Examine, Use, Read, Take - the basic adventure commands. The bottom half of the screen has two windows; the right-hand one is used for extra information - who is in a location with you, what people are saying - as well as being where anything you say appears. The left-hand window has various uses. Objects in a location can appear there, or you can see what pictures you have managed to take with your camera, or you can get your notepad or diary to appear there. At the bottom of the screen arrows tell you how many exits there are in your present location, and which direction they are.
As you move about the village and the surrounding district, your character strides through a graphic representation of the particular location he is in. Other characters may also be present. If they are, then you can try to ask them questions, or even take pictures of them. You'd be better off, though, using the camera on monsters, like the zombie in the graveyard.
To take pictures, you select Camera from the menu; a cursor appears on screen, representing what's in you view-finder, and you also get a picture of what you would be taking if you were to press the button shown at the bottom left. Make sure you're aiming at what you want, ask them to say cheese, press the button, and hey presto, a picture.
You're not entirely alone. You can go to the telegraph office, and wire The Chronicle asking for information about the vicar, for example, and they'll check their files and wire you back any information next day.
Once you think you've got something worth writing about, you can select Report. This allows you to use the screen to lay out your story; you get to write the headlines, decide where to put the pictures, as well as actually do the reporting. Once you've got the front page of The Chronicle just as you want it, then you can dump it to a printer. Rupert Murdoch, eat your heart out - no need for Wapping with The London Chronicle.
Your reporter is actually going to discover some exceedingly nasty stuff, and slowly but surely is going to be driven mad. If your sanity score ever drops to zero, that's it - you're carried off to the loony bin and that's the end of the game.
I found it difficult to work out how to move initially, but once I got the hang of it it became pretty compulsive, although the animated graphics aren't really all that brilliant. They're a bit like those in Gargoyle's Tir Na Nog, only not as good. But for the purposes of the game they're fine. The menu system can also be a bit of a pain at times, until you get used to it. To begin with I kept on entering the same command time after time, but that was my own fault.
Apart from these limitations I got really quite deeply hooked by Arkham Manor. I was impressed with the scope and variety of gameplay and I suspect that the basic challenge - getting the whole story without flipping your lid - is going to hook a lot of people.
It's a complicated game idea presented in as simple a way as possible, and it deserves to be a big hit.
Complex menu-driven adventure with overtones of Gothic horror stories. A possible hit.