Adventure Gamers Awards
The Inquisition resumes the morning after a night of tossing and turning for Nicholas Eymerich at the dingy inn of Calcares. Nibbled at by rats and haunted by nightmares of ferocious demons, he awakens with even greater resolve to hunt down the source of evil in the village. A glimpse outside reveals the ominous, purple-tinted landscape that serves as the setting for the second part of the socio-religious thriller set in medieval France, titled The Inquisitor: Book II – The Village. Although an isolated, mountainous place with little agricultural or economic activity, Calcares was clearly a thriving community before the seemingly-demonic plague decimated the population. A Cistercian abbey perched upon a rugged mountain seems to hold the key to the mystery, but now its massive doors are shut, and thick plumes of dark smoke billow out. The local church is also locked, and Eymerich’s investigation is obstructed by the quiet, conspiratorial resistance of the villagers who mislead him with denials and lies. The addition of human malice to the previously-established supernatural plot creates initial interest, but things start to slide downhill in the second half when matters of personal faith specific to Catholicism become the main narrative, pushing aside the original quest to decode the secret of the village.
The story picks up only a few hours after the end of Book 1 – The Plague, but the sequel was in development for almost two years, though you wouldn’t have guessed that from the number of both production and design issues on display here. There is some good news: The Village is longer, has more quests and puzzles, features tandem play between Eymerich and Fr Jacinto – the ‘missing’ priest of Carcassonne who is found soon enough – and the graphical styling is still engaging, with impactful visuals and interesting viewing perspectives as Eymerich explores the village’s lanes and fields. But unlike the structured, austere abbey of Carcassonne, the fluid, rustic setting of Calcares exposes the inadequacy of the blocky three-dimensional graphics and erratic animation, compounded by pathfinding problems, interface issues, and visible physics glitches. Poorly-clued puzzles and unenlightening conversations further contribute to many situations where you have no idea what to do and must roam around hoping to trip over the next step. With these drawbacks, what could have been a tense thriller laced with Eymerich’s incisive intellect and barbed wit is instead a meandering excursion through a dismal, decrepit village.
The second episode recaps the first by making you solve a smart little puzzle. The initial quarter of the investigation is restricted to the inn, with Eymerich downing a quick meal and then pottering about the sparsely-furnished establishment to unearth some clues about the insidious goings-on at Calcares. But once outside, the entire village opens up for exploration, and Eymerich is free to walk about and interact with various objects and persons of interest. This sounds more interesting than it actually is, however, because there are very few locations to visit, and even fewer people to talk to.
Apart from the innkeeper, a coarse woman full of secrets, and her sole customer, a bailiff who once served as a go-between for the assorted nefarious activities of villagers, there are only three other relevant locals. One is Dupont, the horribly-deformed, ailing captain of a band of mercenaries hired to defend the village. His team has perished from the plague and he too is all but a rotting corpse, but he is still the best source of information and does well to muster his meagre strength to help Eymerich. An old lady who pitches in with a vital quest item, and an accursed young mother whose predicament exposes the awful truth about Calcares, round up the supporting trio.
The overarching supernatural theme also continues alongside the shenanigans of the creepy villagers. In an odd twist of mythology, chatty manifestations of pagan goddess Demeter and her sensuously beautiful ‘daughters’ Medusa and Artemis hover outside the burning abbey, blocking the way into the obvious hotspot of trouble. The hefty Fr Jacinto is enlisted into the investigation around the midway point, and unwittingly dispels the tension created by Eymerich’s grim discoveries with his bovine disposition. The devout priest’s dual responsibility is to do all the heavy lifting, and humanise the crisis since the iron-willed Eymerich is impervious to emotional manipulation. We also spend several hours literally stumbling about the surreal landscape of Jacinto’s distraught mind as he battles the horrors of temptation, guilt and fear, punishing himself on multiple occasions with self-harm. The pathways of Jacinto’s personal Hell are paved with easy but fun puzzles, but it is a substantial, pointless detour from the task at hand to delve into the psyche of a man you have just met and don’t care about.
As in part one, most of this game has Eymerich digging for clues, and the deeper he delves, the murkier things get. He quickly learns that there is a far more heinous problem at Calcares than the plague, and the explanation (at this time) seems to be a dreadful concoction of a scientific aberration and a twisted interpretation of faith. This, if true, would make for a far more compelling plot than a purely supernatural one, but there are few answers in this episode. Instead, searching for clues brings into focus the gameplay, which falls way short of the intended finesse due to inconsistent rules and weak technical execution. The point-and-click interface returns with the same inefficiencies as before, such as the multi-click inventory usage and the journal always opening on the first page. Objectives stump you with randomly varying rules of object collection and use, and inconsistencies like Item A being combinable with Item B, but not vice versa. One task requires you to find an unmarked tree in a forest by checking every tree; another involves stringing together floating dead bodies which keep getting entangled with each other; and a quest to bend a metal rod took me ages to crack simply because of repetitive, misleading feedback.
Meanwhile, standalone puzzles have little or no instruction, forcing you to first spend time working out their logic by trial and error before getting down to solving them. Most are variations of jigsaws, sliders, rotators and pattern match puzzles, and are visually attractive and amusing to solve once the logic becomes clear. Challenges include assembling keys and breaking codes to unlock objects and doors, reengineering an ancient catapult, and mutilating a rotting corpse. On occasion you can alternate between Eymerich and Jacinto to solve puzzles using their combined skills. Eymerich moves at a measured pace and never runs, but the heavy backtracking is simplified by the hand-scribbled map which allows translocation between available areas. There are now twenty save slots instead of ten, while the points system for completing tasks and discovering Easter eggs has been retained as before, with deductions for using hints.Continued on the next page...