Let's make something abundantly clear right from the outset: Jane Jensen's BeTrapped is not Gray Matter aka Project Jane-J. It is not the savior of the adventure genre. It is not overwhelming in beauty, magnificently cinematic, or wonderfully confounding in puzzle difficulty. Sound appealing yet? Ah, but save your resentment; I'd go as far as to say that if you're a regular reader to this site and a devotee of the adventure genre, you're hardly the target audience anyway. Still, you may find something to like in BeTrapped. Life is all about expectations, and I truly believe that if you approach this game with a clear idea of what you're getting into, you'll actually find quite a nice little game in here.
BeTrapped, a development of Jane Jensen's Oberon Media, is a casual game, and is for casual gamers. It will not be sold in stores and will not show up in your mailbox in a shrinkwrapped CD. It is sold through gaming portals online; the same portals that sell Jewel Quest, Super Collapse, Zuma Deluxe, and a whole host of other mindless casual “puzzle” fare. These are generally reflex-driven games with a clock counting down, and the only progression in the game is more colored balls or cookies to vaporize (and less time to do it in). What on earth would something from Jane Jensen, master storyteller, creator of adventure gaming's most beloved hero, be doing amongst this rabble?
Well, though many don't know it, this isn't Ms. Jensen's first dip into the casual gaming well. The very successful Inspector Parker made quite a mark on casual gaming in 2003. Though hardly an adventure game, it did depend much more on logic and deductive reasoning in the solving of its puzzles rather than quick reflexes, and it at least attempted to use characters and a storyline as framework for what was really a glorified variation of Clue. When development on Jane Jensen's highly anticipated Gray Matter ceased in May of 2004, the simultaneous announcement was made that the character of Inspector Parker would return in a Victorian murder mystery that would be distributed on casual gaming networks.
Needless to say, many did not believe such an insignificant project worthy of Jane Jensen's storytelling talent and dismissed it from the start. And there is some validity to their concerns: this is hardly an epic the scope of Gabriel Knight--but if given time, and patience, and reasonable expectations, BeTrapped actually has quite a nice story to offer.
You are, I'm sure, quite skeptical at this point, likely having either a) played the game's one-hour demo for five minutes and then told everyone that you played the full hour, or b) read the post of someone who accomplished a) and then claimed to have done it yourself. There's no question that with only a passing glance at BeTrapped it not only appears dull and joyless, but also nothing more than a completely story-free game of Mansion Minesweeper. And even if you do stick it out for an entire hour, you're likely not going to even get close to realizing that there's a true story underneath all this.
So thank goodness for reviewers, huh!
I was not at all happy with BeTrapped for about the first hour and a half that I played. I had somehow led myself (and others) to believe that the Adventure Mode of the game was independent of the puzzle aspect. There is a Puzzle Mode--though it's hardly my job to strenuously evaluate it for an Adventure Gamers review--that serves as a nice, ten-minutes-here, fifteen-minutes-there diversion and is really a pretty competent and decent-looking alternative to Minesweeper. As you walk across tiled floors, the tiles you step on change color to indicate how many trapped tiles are adjacent to you. You'll soon learn standard patterns and using that knowledge, you right-click on tiles you haven't stepped on to deactivate them. You have five "misses" before you're toast; in other words, no trying to deactivate every tile in the room. You also have five "lives," but the sixth decapitation/incineration/impaling will be too much!
I've just described the Puzzle Mode. Unfortunately, I've also just described the Adventure Mode, with some key distinctions. In Puzzle Mode, the inexperienced player can find his way back to the main menu pretty quickly, and pretty often. In the Adventure Mode, there is no permanent loss of life; "death" as it were merely hits the reset button of the room. In Puzzle Mode, the rooms are randomly generated with no system or pattern. In Adventure Mode, there are 37 rooms, always laid out in the same order with the same traps in the same patterns in each room. See--Complete Lack of Replayability, Symptom #1 of an adventure game (I'm half-kidding, of course). The clearest distinction, as you might imagine, is the presence of adventure elements--which yes, do exist. Upon de-trapping each room, you will have the chance to the interact with the "story elements" of the room. This can include picking up inventory items, questioning characters, listening to conversations on the other side of vents, or just generally examining closely the items around you. The interface is a super simple left-click-to-interact, and thus you will find the game is a generally linear project of clearing each room and then interacting with each story element.
Still, as you do this, you'll be quite surprised at how much more depth there is to the story than what you've been led to believe. There is a pretty large cast of characters, all of whom are feuding/plotting/sleeping with most of the other characters in one way or another. BeTrapped at least passes the Notepad Test--as in, you'll have trouble keeping up with all the various characters and their motives and relationships without a notepad next to you. The story is enhanced by various methods of eavesdropping and first-hand conversations, which take place in a style very similar to that of the first Gabriel Knight--you'll basically be clicking on a list of topics until they're all gone. Of course, since the game is in the form of a small download, you should be aware there will be no voice acting here.
You should also know that the story is not just a matter of solving the one murder that originally brings you to the manor on this dark, stormy night--there will be multiple dastardly deeds committed under your very watch as you proceed in the game with assorted twists and turns to coincide. I was extremely surprised how dynamic the story was, and it's quite disappointing that nary a whiff of this dynamic story is shown before the one-hour trial is up. All of the various threads come together in the ending which gives you a sort of "quiz" on the killer(s) and motive(s) in true Laura Bow style. Except--and this was my biggest frustration--the ending continues with Inspector Parker relaying the correct solution regardless of which answer you picked. So no matter how misled you were, you'll know what really happened the first time through. Oh, how much replay value could have been added by simply showing the player they were wrong and stirring the desire to play through again and figure out what detail was missed. I say that as someone who's played Colonel's Bequest through five times without ever uncovering everything and am still drawn back all the time by that desire to find all the details I missed. Complete Lack of Replayability, Part Deux; the only replayability you'll find in BeTrapped is Deadly Puzzle Mode.
Though the story is the sort of quality product you'd expect from Jane Jensen, the game as a whole is certainly not what you'd think of as a Jensenesque epic--it's rather watered down, and understandably so as the target audience likely does not possess the puzzle-solving finesse of a seasoned adventure gamer. You will never be carrying an inventory larger than two or three items and it'll be magnificently obvious which one is to be used at all times. But on the bright side, at least you'll never have your progress frustratingly halted. The game is going to take between 7 or 8 hours assuming you don't die repeatedly in the puzzle portion—which you really shouldn’t if you have any sort of reasonable pattern recognition skills--and take time to read all the dialogue and take notes. Not exactly The Longest Journey, but that may be just what some desire--a one or two-session snack-sized adventure. The save/restore feature advertises the lack of real depth in the game; it does not allow for multiple saves, but serves as a simple bookmark system. The option for backtracking doesn't exist, because the need for it never will.
Having said all that, you certainly know by now whether this game is for you. I would venture to say that 80% of the audience of this site has concluded that it hasn't. It's short, it's easy, it looks like a refugee of 1993, and it's a great story--but one framed with one freaking massive game of Minesweeper. I hope you'll realize, though, that this isn't an act of treason by Jane Jensen; as she stated in our E3 interview, this game is trying to appeal to a new audience: the casual gamers, which is a much larger audience than that of adventure gamers right now. BeTrapped is almost a sort of Trojan horse for those who find themselves so easily lost in endless rounds of Super Candy Cruncher--look, we can actually wrap a pretty interesting story into your puzzly goodness. So don't be offended if you think that Jensen has abandoned you; she's only trying to convert more into the fold. Given time, and given the hopeful success of this game, we have every reason to believe she'll jump at the chance to make another epic adventure game, and for lovers of old-fashioned murder mystery, BeTrapped is a fine way for the Minesweeper-tolerant adventure gamer to spend a couple Sunday afternoons.