Adventure Gamers Awards
The second episode of The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle may be subtitled “A Bleaker Predicklement,” but this cheeky moniker belies a game that is anything but bleak, particularly in comparison to the series debut. Episode 2 continues the adventures of the titular Victorian Explorator and his manservant, the Peruvian cyclops Gavin, in their quest to capture London's most notorious serial killer. Filled with puns, clever literary shout-outs and unfortunately plenty of bugs, the sequel is an improvement by most accounts but even after several updates could still use some extra polish to really refine.
A Bleaker Predicklement carries on the premise from the first episode, in that Bertram Fiddle is on the trail of Geoff the Murderer – a play on (of course) Jack the Ripper. However, this time Bertram's investigation is seriously hampered as a result of being mistaken for the killer and subsequently thrown in jail by Sherlock Holmes. After escaping imprisonment, the rest of the game follows Bertram and Gavin's attempt to clear his name and then return to London from the countryside and pick up the hunt for the real culprit again.
The plot for this second installment is more interesting than its predecessor. (Not having the boorish character of Mrs. Fiddle around helps greatly in that regard.) Without giving too much of the story away, the six chapters flow together nicely for the most part, with the two protagonists engage in various shenanigans like unlocking the chained-up lover of Oscar Wilde, confronting a Lovecraftian tentacled monster, and creating a makeshift hot-air balloon. Though the case of Geoff the Murderer is ostensibly resolved by the end, there is a very obvious sequel hook before the credits roll, and the small matter of some personal storylines left unresolved, leaving room for the possibility of more adventures of Bertram Fiddle in the future.
The cast in this part, much like the first, is a mixed bag of nuts. Many characters from the previous game make token appearances here, including Holmes and Watson, Lord Arthwipe and Emmelina Snoopsworth. New characters include the mad owner of Wretchedly Hall and Bertram's despondent cellmate in prison, as well as Marvo the Hypno-Cat and Mr. Dulsworth, Bertram's employer who is having a secret love affair with the bearded woman at the circus. Each character is quirky and eccentric, though most aren't particularly memorable, largely because they don't play a huge part in the story. Most are there to serve a purpose and deliver one or two gags before exiting stage right.
Gameplay hasn’t changed much, which is nice, but it's simple to get into even if you haven't picked up the first one (though of course you’d be missing out on some relevant details by starting with the sequel). You click to move Bertram or Gavin around and interact with the environment, and slide the cursor over to the inventory tab to select items for their appropriate uses on-screen. One aspect that works particularly well in this game is the switching between Gavin and Bertram whilst the latter is stuck in jail. To alternate, you simply need to click on the cell window. You can swap back and forth as many times as necessary, and send collected items both ways via the same method. Playing as Gavin is an interesting breath of fresh air, particularly as he is much more deadpan than Bertram and provides a different sense of humor.
The puzzles are improved this time too, though they are still by no means difficult. With the exception of one section in Wretchedly Hall, the obstacles provide much better clues. Most are still inventory-based, and are fairly intuitive if you can get your head around the logic of Bertram's world and think outside the box of our own. There is also a word-fragment puzzle and two fairly easy mazes Bertram has to get through, along with working out how to use the telephone switchboard to call customers for Dulsworth’s Adequate Soap Company. Various challenges will have you discovering secret passages, releasing the manacles from an escaped convict, and providing a painter with the materials to work with. I must confess, however, that one section is greatly aided if you know what the heck a “dirigible” is. I was stuck for some time before I realized I needed to break down and look it up, because the game itself doesn't clearly explain the contraption.
The second episode’s graphics and music are of course similar to the first installment, with the addition of new environments, character models and background tracks. The art is clean and crisp and cartoonish, with a comical number of absurd noses once again. Each character has their own unique look and design, no matter how secondary. Some of my favorites were the typical Dickensian paper boy flogging the Evening Burble in his cap, scarf and raggedy attire, along with the mummified-looking Mrs. Dulsworth with her nose like a dead worm and an incessant downturned mouth. The same goes for the settings: every area is visually interesting, yet designed with an eye for the puzzles that must be solved there. From London to the countryside to a sacrificial demon altar, each scene clearly shows the thought and creativity put into it, allowing for more plain weird things than you could shake a skull staff at, such as a malfunctioning pair of time trousers, making meat friends, and Bertram and Gavin cross-dressing as Victorian ladies. The score is comprised of rotating tracks, each used for multiple locations and giving the action a sort of new wave, late 1800s feel.
The greatest failing of A Bleaker Predicklement has been its massive number of glitches. When first released, the game was virtually unplayable for me, and even after several updates fixing upwards of 50-plus bugs, it is still wont to crash on me at a moment’s notice. One chapter in particular needs to be basically tiptoed around with actions done in a very specific order, otherwise the game is prone to breaking at several points. For an adventure game that encourages “explorating” like Bertram Fiddle, this is a tremendous drawback. The developers have released a statement that they are working on a new build of the game to clear up the rest of the issues, but even several months after launch, there is no target timeframe for this. In addition to game-killing bugs, there are also numerous instances of dialogue lines being cut off abruptly, subtitles not quite syncing up with the spoken version and visual clipping like when Bertram quite literally loses his head in one scene.
Even without any padding from technical problems, Episode 2 clocks in at about 6-8 hours of playtime, more than double that of Episode 1. As a result, it feels much more like a proper adventure than a quick jaunt with our protagonists, allowing the writers more freedom to play around. In particular, the quality of writing is much improved, with a better balance of humor than the first game’s almost exclusive focus on bad puns and sexual humor. There is a greater variety of jokes, with witty banter, funnier puns and countless literary references. With nods to everything from Jane Eyre to H.P. Lovecraft to An American Werewolf in London, there's something for everyone to enjoy a laugh. Of course, if the sexual innuendo is what tickles your funny bone, you can still take a trip to Aunt Fanny's Cakery or the “manly enhancements” shop.
Overall, the second episode of The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle has far more positives than negatives, at least now that the worst of the glitches are gone. A more engaging story with better puzzle design, sharper writing and more humorous references all work in favor of a game's that is approximately twice as long as its predecessor. Unfortunately, the remaining bugs still present at time of writing do detract from what is otherwise a highly enjoyable experience. Still, if you don't mind having to work around a possible crash or two, A Bleaker Predicklement offers a campy, satirically funny Victorian experience.