Tuesday, 14 July 2009

PC Game Review - Keepsake

Set in a school where all the students have mysteriously disappeared, a young woman who should be starting her training must discover the secrets of a strange academy - and the plot that has engulfed it. After briefly being introduced to the basic game mechanics by a rather irritating character, Lydia (that's you) sets off in search of answers. Before long she finds a young dragon - so he claims, though currently he's in the form of a wolf - who seems to be the only inhabitant of the academy to have been untouched by whatever happened. He tags along, occasionally helping Lydia, though for a dragon he sure seems to be afraid of a lot of things. After a while Lydia will come across the keepsake she gave her best friend Celeste - who was supposed to meet her on her arrival at school - visions start to come to Lydia, helping her understand what's been going on - though there always seem to be more questions than answers...

Keepsake is a brave idea that doesn't quite come off... combining a traditional third-person adventure game with a Myst-type game. Since I'm a huge fan of the former and don't like the latter, I guess for me it was mostly going to depend on how much of each type of game element was used in this. While it certainly contains elements of an adventure game, but nothing in the way of working out what items to use on each other - if you have the right key and try to open the door, for instance, you will use the right key automatically. Basically the game is a series of logic puzzles held together by the main storyline.

The storyline is in fact very good and the game has bags of atmosphere; it really pulling you into the plot. The characters (although few in number) are well developed and the main character reacts believably to things. The background graphics are beautifully rendered; while the character animation isn't always that great, the quality of the backdrops is always superb. The ambient sound effects are good, the music suitably medieval-sounding, and the voice acting is usually pretty good. It sounds wrong here and there - the stress on words and timing of pauses is occasionally a bit weird, but in general the voicing is good and Lydia doesn't sound too annoying. (She comes close once or twice, but Secret Files: Tunguska is infinitely more irritating.)

The trouble is that you have these great backgrounds... and almost nothing to do in them. Therefore much of the game consists of walking or running through screen after screen of wonderful graphics, but precious little to actually do - and though there are one or two shortcuts, getting from where you are to where you need to be can be a painfully slow process. There is a vaguely helpful in-game map that you can bring up at any time, but this only partially alleviates the problem.

There is also an in-game help function, which generally shows you where you need to go next in the main game, and explains how puzzles work if you're in the middle of a logic puzzle (it does not, however, tell you how to complete the puzzles, so it doesn't make the game too easy). Generally there are two levels of hints. This is a nice feature and I used it a few times, mostly due to curiosity, sometimes because I couldn't quite work out what I was supposed to be doing next. The logic puzzles vary in difficulty but some are very tough, and I must shamefacedly admit to looking for the solution online to a couple of them.

Overall while it looks and sounds great, and the plot will keep you interested, Keepsake is lacking in the most crucial aspect - game play. There just isn't enough to do as you wander around hundreds (literally, I think) of screens getting from A to B. The interface was great but really you don't need to actually use it very often. To me, it would have been better with more adventure game elements; if however you're a fan of the Myst games (considering it's one of the best-selling PC games of all time, there must be a few!), I think you'll enjoy it a lot more.

Giving this a rating has proved difficult... viewed more as a slightly interactive movie than a game, I did enjoy it - sort of. Much as I admire what the game's designers (Wicked Studios - this was their debut release) were trying to do and the effort that went into it, however, I don't feel it's worth more than 5/10. Unless you're more into Myst type games than I am, I wouldn't particularly recommend it.

Minimum System Specs:

CPU: Pentium III
RAM: 256Mb
HDD Space: 1.4Gb
DirectX: 9.0c
OS: Windows Me/2000/NT/XP (It ran fine on Vista 64-bit once I'd installed the latest official patches - visit the Official Keepsake Website to get them)

Age Rating (PEGI): 7+ (rated "E for Everyone" in the States, I think)

Tested on: Packard Bell iPower X9810

If you want to read a review that seems contradicts pretty much every opinion I put forward here (!), see this GameSpot review - I find it interesting how two people can get such completely different things from the same game.

For more traditional adventure gaming fun, see:

My Top Ten Commercial Graphical Adventure Games

My Top Ten Freeware Adventure Games

CaptainD - PC Gaming Blog

More Adventure Game Reviews

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