“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” should be familiar words even to those who haven’t read the great Charles Dickens. Now adventure gamers can experience those times first-hand, as A Tale of Two Cities is the latest classic novel to get Chris Tolworthy’s ongoing Enter The Story treatment. Now in its fourth instalment, Enter The Story presents an interactive version of some of literature's greatest works, and it is a unique experience. Though not entirely faithful to the source material, players get to experience the classics in a new way. A Tale of Two Cities does have some shortcomings, but it is an enjoyable retelling of the original novel and should appeal to Dickens fans, though you certainly don’t need to know the book already to appreciate it here.
The late 18th century plot revolves around Lucie Manette, who discovers that her father is still alive after thinking he had died when she was a child. It turns out he was imprisoned in the Bastille by the aristocratic Marquis St. Evrémonde all those years. Upon his release during the period of the French Revolution, Lucie travels from England to France to finally bring her father home. Jumping forward years later, she falls in love with Charles Darnay, nephew of the Marquis who imprisoned Dr Manette, a revelation that mentally unbalances Lucie’s father. Realising the only way they can help rid him of his traumatic memories is to destroy the Bastille, Lucie and her governess travel back to France, this time to aid the revolution by enlisting the help of the common people, soldiers, and even a high ranking officer. Tragically, the shift in French political power results in the noble Darnay being imprisoned and put on trial. If found guilty, he’ll be sentenced to execution, leaving Lucie desperate to prove her husband’s innocence.
This premise is similar to Dickens’ novel, and there's plenty of the original plot in this abridged version, though of course the gaming experience is much shorter than the book. Even in condensed form, however, A Tale of Two Cities is well-paced and still creates the same sense of excitement, emotion and drama that was present in the original book. Observant readers may notice that the characters sometimes explore locations before their book counterparts encounter them, though the main story doesn't progress until the necessary actions have been completed.
The main protagonist in the game is not Lucie Manette, but Peri, a returning character from the previous Enter The Story instalments. In A Tale of Two Cities, Peri assumes the role of Miss Pross. Always referred to as Peri, she is the housekeeper for Lucie, who travels with her and looks after her throughout the course of the game. While it is necessary to periodically take control of other characters such as Sydney Carton, a barrister employed to defend Charles Darnay and to whom he bears a striking resemblance, the majority of the story unfolds through Peri. She serves as the driving force behind the storyline, and the majority of the gameplay centres around her.
Actually controlling the characters is an interesting experience. Only Peri and a few other key people can move around, though technically you can “control” any character you meet by causing them to reflect on any available subject. You can observe objects or scenery, but most of the time it is necessary simply to make one character talk with another. This is achieved by right-clicking on a character, which makes them active, then right-clicking again on another character to get them to talk. This can be done with anyone at all, even just people milling about in the street, and the response you get may be brief or more detailed depending on the character's significance to the story and their relationship with each other.
If the second character is in a different area, you can make the first person 'think' of them instead, left-clicking on exits to change scenes in between. In some cases, this even involves opening the map and selecting a different location to travel to altogether. While a little unusual, it’s a necessary part of the gameplay, and one of the biggest “puzzles” of the game, if it can be called that, is working out which character needs to think of which other in order to get the story to progress. This can become repetitive over time, with not enough gameplay variety to keep things feeling fresh, though it’s a useful device in retaining the novelistic style of the story.
Unlike most adventures, the environment in A Tale of Two Cities can't be manipulated directly. Characters will sometimes need to look at a key object in order to proceed, but any necessary actions are described rather than carried out by the player. There are a number of other interactions that require various keystrokes, but any function other than a right-click is explained to you at the time. One important feature is the F1 key, which causes Peri to give you hints. Hints are given incrementally for your current task, though eventually you’ll be told outright what you're supposed to do. Sometimes I found the hints necessary, as it was not always obvious what needed to be done next.Continued on the next page...