A Quiet Weekend in Capri review
When I first heard the premise of A Quiet Weekend in Capri, I was oddly reminded of a game released in 1998 called The Lost Island of Alanna. While the idea of commercial gaming is hardly new, the idea of games as commercials certainly is. Alanna was produced by the Coca-Cola company to promote their Cherry Coke line of soft drinks. They gave away a first-person adventure game, with the hook being that hints to certain puzzles could only be found in specially marked cans of their products. It failed miserably.
A Quiet Weekend in Capri takes place in the eastern portion of the real-life island of Capri, which lies just off the Italian coast. Last year, the authors worked with the Capri Municipality to offer the prize of a free trip to the first person who finished the game.
As an attempt to familiarize players with the island and to make them feel as if they've been to a real, living place, Capri is a wonderful success. By the end, every major location in the game held some personal meaning for me. Unfortunately, its ambition in allowing you to explore an entire island is part of what makes it fail as a coherent, playable adventure game.
The story begins with the player leaving the coast of Italy, taking a hydrofoil out to the island. This first section is basically a slideshow: each static photograph can be clicked in one particular section to continue onwards. There's ultimately a reason for this, and to say why would spoil the game, but the initial lack of interactivity can be frustrating.
The well-crafted audio of the game is immediately apparent. You're surrounded by the voices of your fellow tourists, the sound of the waves and the wind. Less impressive is the recorded conversation of the people you'll encounter. You're given the choice of languages at the beginning of the game: English, Italian, or Italian with English subtitles. I would highly suggest the last option, as the English dialogue is spoken by native Italian speakers, highly accented and difficult to understand.
Musical interludes appear throughout the game, usually connected to a specific location. All of them are well-written and interesting. Unfortunately, for the most part these are short and it's not long before the game's soundtrack is back to playing background noises. This naturalistic "musical scenery" works, but I would have preferred either more songs, or the ability to play them longer.
Soon into the slideshow, you arrive and are taken by taxi to the Piazetta, the main square of the village of Capri. There, you'll meet a newstand vendor and receive a map and instructions on how to reach the hotel where you'll spend the weekend.
But as you approach the front doors of the Quisisana, your vision blurs and suddenly the tourists who have thus far been crowding the streets vanish. Oddly, the doors to the hotel are locked, and a sign instructs visitors to return to the main square for more information. On doing so, the news vendor accosts you, calling you "Rafele" and saying that if you don't stop wandering off the greengrocer will find a new stockboy. The hotel? It's been closed for two years because of the war, of course. Now quickly, take this newspaper down to the banker who lives on Occhio Marino...
The game utilizes a first-person perspective, with each scene a beautiful, full-color digitized photograph of the real Capri. As you drag the mouse over the scene, the cursor becomes an arrow to indicate that you can go in that direction. Below are a set of icons that give access to gameplay options such as your inventory, saving and restoring the game, and a useful "U'RE HERE" function that indicates your current location, as well as those of any people you've encountered. Objects from your inventory can be clicked on special hotspots to use them.
While the interface is fairly straightforward, it also feels awkward and unpolished. Restoring the game requires first choosing "start" and then "from a previous save," which isn't exactly intuitive, as the same menu is required to start the game and to use "jump points" around the island. Worse, none of the inventory items have labels, which can make things very confusing when you pick up some of the various plants and fruits available on the island. There's also no ability to name any of the six save slots.
Since Capri is a real place, the narrow streets and passageways aren't laid out in a simple, straightforward manner. Paths curve in around themselves, and finding the exits from a scene can be difficult. Also, almost the entire game (which covers the eastern portion of Capri) is immediately available; a huge, overwhelming area that takes up approximately 4,500 screens. Since the photographs don't turn a proscribed distance (90 or 180 degrees, for example), it can be difficult to tell precisely where you are and which direction you're facing. The Pian delle Noci, for example, contains a single, important screen that is very difficult to find.
Still, the initial feeling of exploring a strange, new place is wonderful. Finding the Occhio Marino on the in-game map, and wandering the streets until I found the banker's house made me feel as if I were in the real Capri and effectively captured the the sensation of being lost in a foreign country. There are hundreds of little views that have nothing to do with the game: houses, gardens, shops, shots of the ocean, and natural rock formations.
Unfortunately, Capri's high points begin to wear after a while. The huge number of locations becomes annoying as you try to find objects scattered around the island. There are entire sections of the game, some of them as large as twenty or thirty screens, that have nothing to do with the story. The game comes with a built-in "cheat" system that highlights any hotspots by putting a black box around them. I turned it on early to help find some of the more difficult exits, and ended up leaving it on for the whole game. Even then, finding the view that contains the one, tiny hotspot required to continue can be an exercise in frustration.
Also, the initial thrill of running errands for the people of Capri begins to pall, as it seems everyone wants something from someone else and can't get it themselves. Rafele's mother needs something dropped off at her niece's house, the greengrocer needs several errands run, the confectioner needs the ingredients of a Capri cake...
The game gives the player no ability to communicate with any of the characters they meet, either. All of them speak their set monologues and then simply vanish. Each one assumes that, since you're Rafele, a local, you know what they're speaking of and where everything is on the island. So when the greengrocer tells you to get a key from his house, you're not given any opportunity to ask precisely where that is. The game is designed so that you can find that information from another source (a puzzle of a sort) but in the end none of the NPC's are given more personality than just talking heads.
The fetch-quests eventually lead into the larger focus of the game: getting things back to normal. Information about the world in which you've found yourself comes from a variety of sources, and all of them work together to create an internally consistent, whimsical alternate Capri. Everything is given a reason for existing, even if that reason is strange or contrary to conventional logic.
The game's later puzzles are all complex affairs, usually involving gathering information and objects from various sources and synthesizing them into a solution. The influence of Myst is clearly strong here, as the various journals and notes of a reclusive scientist lead you towards understanding the background.
While these obstacles are well integrated into the game world, they often require an unfair level of trial and error as well as utilizing information not available in the game, such as how to calculate if a year contains a leap day or not. While most of it is common knowledge, it's annoying to find a puzzle unsolveable simply because you didn't know the right piece of trivia. The two "phone number" puzzles involved a large amount of guessing, the first to match audio tones, the second because not enough information on the numbering system was given.
The worst offender is the maze near the end of the game. It added nothing to the game play and was a frustrating experience even with a walkthrough (which I needed up referring to in the end), especially considering that it contained a timed section that required several attempts to solve.
The puzzles and storyline come together in an interesting ending that neatly bookends the opening. Once through the maze, I enjoyed the last set of puzzles as all of the pieces fell into place. Particularly enjoyable was the silly, clever way required to hide a certain device from agents of Anacapri.
A Quiet Weekend in Capri wonderfully captures its source material, allowing users to wander a real-world location at their leisure, soaking up the beautiful views and atmosphere. The visuals and audio, combined with the historical information available through the program's optional sightseeing and cultural tour, give the whole program an authentic sense of place. As a virtual trip through Capri's winding streets, A Quiet Weekend is an unqualified success. As an adventure game, though, there were too many problems with the design of the interface and the puzzle elements to make it an experience worth fully recommending.