Adventure Gamers Awards
When last we saw New Jersey-based antique dealer Louis Everett, he had blacked out after meeting with a mysterious customer named Mr. Goodman and woken up in a New York City hotel room. How did he get there? What’s happening to him? Don’t count on any answers to these questions in the second episode of this increasingly muddled and incoherent iPhone/iPod Touch adventure game series. 1112 clearly fancies itself the Lost of video games, even making multiple not-so-subtle (or entirely accurate) references to the TV show, but while Lost is a master of obfuscation-as-art, luring audiences along with likable characters and high production values even when the mysteries make little sense, 1112 is such a clumsy mess that it became a chore just to finish it. If there is an intriguing mystery in this game somewhere, it’s hard to find it or even care about the search when the puzzles are so poorly conceived and the writing is this thoughtless.
While adventure games have always presented an exaggerated reality, where combining objects and fetching things for people can sometimes mean saving the world, there needs to be some internal sense of logic, and the puzzles should strive to be setting-appropriate. 1112’s atmosphere is of a dark and dangerous world, but its puzzles would be more suitable in a wacky comedy. When Louis wakes up in Room 1112, his first priority, for whatever reason, is to figure out what’s causing that alluringly familiar banging sound in the next room. To do this, he decides to break in. Though the lobby of the hotel is abandoned, he refuses to look at the rack of keys (yes, the Hotel Bellevue uses actual metal keys, not key cards) right there behind the counter. Instead, he must find a way to distract a maid so he can pick the conveniently placed Room 1111 key from off the floor. Yet apparently the only way she can be distracted involves breaking into a slot machine, vandalizing a stranger’s car, stealing tools from a serial killer, and spending $2,000 on a gift for a total stranger. Almost every action in this sequence is so out of left field, it feels more like you’re simply doing everything the game allows you to do and keeping your fingers crossed that somehow it will work in the end.
What do you actually accomplish when you enter Room 1111? Nothing at all. But entering the room does trigger the front desk receptionist to suddenly resume his post, and you can finally ask if he knows how you got to the hotel. Naturally, the receptionist will only speak with you if you solve a Sudoku puzzle for him. As a matter of fact, this is only the first of three mandatory Sudoku puzzles you must solve every time you have a new question for him. Eventually, Louis must trudge through two more sets of speciously reasoned puzzles, as he tries to get into Mr. Goodman’s New York office and figure out how to get back to New Jersey. When it’s all over, you’re still not a stitch closer to knowing what the actual plot of the series is, with an ending that almost duplicates the circumstances of the beginning.
As aggravating as the Sudoku contrivances were, I’d say the worst experience I had was the first “removing screws” minigame (by the second one I was too fatigued to care). In order to remove a screw, you have to rotate your finger on the touch screen counter-clockwise. As each screw is removed, they get progressively more difficult. By the last screw, your finger must be rotating quickly and unceasingly in a perfect circle. Why unceasingly? Every fraction of a second you aren’t doing a perfect job, the screw is re-screwing itself back into the object. Why? How is that possible? I don’t have the answers. All I can say is that removing the last screw took almost three minutes of constant rotation, and my finger actually hurt at the end. And then you have to do it again later with even more screws. Awesome. [Note: The latest version (1.0.1) of the game lists “mini games difficulty” as one of its fixes, so mileage may vary, but this review is based on the original release.]
Though adventure gamers have probably gotten used to playing less-than-excellent English translations of European games, I think 1112: Episode 02 takes the careless cake. It’s bad enough that the developer’s idea of New York City involves relentless British slang and European techno music, but the actual dialogue is full of grammatical errors, misspellings, and utter nonsense. I wrote down a tiny fraction to share verbatim: “This huge ring is definitely plated with the finest gold. If not I am useless about defining jewellery piece!”; “Though it does not belong to the palm species, its appearance reminds may remind one of the palm species.”; “THE OUROBOUROS IS NO MORE CIRCURCULAR.” I knew I was in for some rough times when the tutorial said the menu was in the top left of the screen when it’s actually in the top right. There’s a difference between not understanding and not caring, and it’s clear that not nearly enough care went into this game to get even the simple things correct.
So what does Episode 02 get right? The interface is identical to the first episode, and remains reasonably functional. You hold your finger against the screen to bring up a magnifying glass, and when you’re over a selectable object it presents a menu of interactive choices. There are still problems with some necessary objects being too small to easily locate, and the ratio of suggested interactions to achievable results can be staggeringly high, but generally it works. You speak with other characters by simply choosing from a list of topics. You can suggest your own topics with an in-game typewriter, but nothing I tried appeared to work (outside of asking about “1112” itself). The backgrounds are well-drawn in a dimly-lit realistic style, with several locations around NYC eventually available for Louis to visit. The animation of the rain when you’re outside creates an appropriately oppressive and foreboding atmosphere. I also mostly enjoyed the music, even though it varies in style from French café to French nightclub, neither of which makes sense for a New York City-based storyline, and eventually becomes quite repetitive.
1112: Episode 02 is available now from the iTunes store for $4.99, and will work on either an iPhone (which I used) or an iPod Touch. Most players will probably take between four and five hours to complete it, with at least 45 minutes of that spent on Sudoku, assuming you don’t delete it after attempting the first unscrewing minigame. In fairness, it’s still conceivable that when the 1112 story is completely told, it could end up being a rather interesting thriller, but there is nothing to warrant such optimism two episodes in. If anything legitimately intriguing happened in Episode 02, I was so full of loathing for the writing and the game design that I didn’t notice. At the end of my review for 1112: Episode 01, I said it was “too early to call this project a failure.” It may still be premature, but if this episode is any indication, it’s now well on its way.