It’s Carol Reed’s eighth outing as a British ex-pat sleuth in Norrkörping, Sweden, and this time around she’s contemplating a soothing rest between cases. However, in MDNA Games’ Amber’s Blood, Carol gets far more than she bargained for when she tries to help a friend learn about the macabre mystery behind her grandfather’s death. While this modest, thoroughly traditional point-and-click slideshow adventure doesn’t hold any surprises in the gameplay or presentation department, it does hold a shock or two as you investigate a fascinating mystery that slowly develops over time and provides a satisfying tale full of twists and turns.
Given Carol's typical pattern of peaceful summers shattered by mysteries that need solving, now she'd settle just for sleeping in and having a peaceful day. But even these simple pleasures prove elusive when her good friend Stina becomes intrigued by an obituary for a certain Alfons Larson while searching through her father’s attic after his death. Larson may have been her grandfather, only the date on the obituary is much later than what her family had led her to believe about his death. Unfortunately, Stina injures herself in a fall and must enlist Carol’s help to pursue the matter further. And so Carol finds her summer reverie broken by a mystery that starts out small but increasingly puts her in the line of danger.
Stina’s simple request eventually unfolds into a complex tale full of misplaced ambition and long-kept secrets. The story proceeds in a logical manner, providing straightforward clues about what you’ll need to do next. When you read about the Broxtowe Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane during your investigations, the location appears on a handy map that you carry with you, allowing you to quick travel to this and other destinations. Each location that you visit, including Carol’s apartment, an art gallery, and a rundown windmill, has several areas within it that you must explore thoroughly. Mostly you’re looking for clues, such as notes and letters, as well as picking up inventory items like ladders, screwdrivers, and all manner of regular objects a young sleuth would need to break into… that is, investigate a space.
The more places you explore, the more complicated the inventory puzzles become. Items that aren’t interactive when you first visit a scene become functional and prove very handy once you’ve explored an additional area and found that you need that particular object to help you overcome an obstacle. At times I wished that certain scenes, especially those at large locations with multiple floors to explore, allowed you to quickly travel within them, but the legwork is never overly burdensome. Some locations disappear from your map as you complete all objectives in the area, but most stay open, and there can be more than 15 main locations on the map at its fullest point. You can visit any location that’s currently accessible, but the storyline is pretty straightforward and I never found myself aimlessly backtracking through them.
There is such a wide variety of scenes to explore that you may forget what your current objective is. Fortunately, Carol keeps a handy notebook to help you out in that department. Right-click on the notebook in your inventory, and you’ll get a list your current goals. The game isn’t entirely linear, so it’s possible to have more than one objective at once, but you’ll never have more than a few going at the same time. If you’re not sure about your next step, clicking an objective in the notebook provides detailed hints about where you need to go and what to do next. Because the hints are usually so explicit, I preferred not to rely on them, and in general found that patience and some careful investigation were enough to do the trick. And you do need to be thorough; the smart cursor changes over interactive hotspots, but there is no hotspot highlighter to display all interactive elements, which can lead to occasional screen sweeping. One feature missing from the notebook is a record of what you’ve accomplished and the story so far. Because the plot becomes complicated and has a few twists, it would have been nice to have an account of what you’d discovered so far.
Gameplay in Amber’s Blood stays true to the nature of previous Carol Reed mysteries. The vast majority of your time is spent interviewing characters and exploring locations for clues and items that will help you obtain even more clues. As in previous outings, there aren’t many logic puzzles in this game, but the few provided are well-integrated, and hints are reasonable both in nature and placement. An example of one such puzzle is determining which shelves to move in a records department to find more information about Alfons. You’ll also encounter code-breaking puzzles, as the main characters behind the mystery are trying to keep their activities secret. There are no skip options for the logic puzzles, but they are never very difficult, usually just requiring that you pay close attention to the clues discovered.Continued on the next page...