Emerald City Confidential
Ah, the joys of public domain! With the Oz books out of copyright, everyone can spin their own tales, from the subversive "Wicked" to this intriguing and well-acted adventure game. In it, you control Petra, a former member of the City Guard turned Private Detective. Forties film-noir meets talking ragdolls and pompous wozzlebugs. Does it work? That is the mystery we'll explore in this review.
Story-wise, it works, if you have a taste for odd whimsy. The slightly-seedy, slightly-run-down vision of an Emerald City filled with corrupt lawyers and embittered detectives is well presented through hand-drawn, 2-D images, that are cartoony without being childish. The jewel of the game is the voiceover work--virtually all the dialog is spoken by a variety of voice actors, and the acting quality is actually pretty decent. The sheer amount of dialog is amazing; I've seen few games with this much spoken text.
And there is the downside; there is so much story here, there's not much room for the game. In the one hour of gameplay allotted by the demo, there was only one real "puzzle" as such, and playing on for a bit showed more of the same pattern--a lot of story, a fairly small number of choices, but not a lot of head scratchers. The first quarter or so of the game (to judge from the 'quests completed' bar on the bottom of the screen) barely gets you into the ever-unfolding tale of a missing person, a secret past, a corrupt lawyer, and hints of a much larger plot underneath it all. Nonetheless, I felt a lot more like I was watching a movie unfolding one click at a time than playing a game. It's a very entertaining movie, and I admit I'm curious as to how it all turns out, but I also want to feel that unfolding the story is my "reward" for solving puzzles and finding clues. I want to do some of it myself.
Gameplay is standard for this style of game; you click objects to examine them, drag objects from your inventory to a target (i.e, drag a key to a door) to use them, click people to enter conversation trees. As far as I can tell from the early conversations, you can't lock out parts of the tree or "say the wrong thing," so be sure to click every option to get the full story from each character you meet.
If you love the old LucasArts or Sierra style adventure games, love Oz, or love film noir, this could well be the game for you. Just be warned that the "game" is second to the plot, and all will be well.
Note: The software is free of spyware and viruses. The installer will, however, ask you if you want to install a toolbar and change your search engine. You can choose not to, and probably should. This link takes you to the PlayFirst site, where you can download the latest version of the software.