The St Christopher’s School Lockdown first started garnering attention with its successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. At the time, Classroom Graffiti Productions announced its ambitious plans to deliver a narrative-based game centered around a protest by the student body of the titular prestigious private school in Britain. The story in intended to play out across seven episodes, as seen from the viewpoint of seven different characters. With the release of the series debut four years later, the result is an interesting, if somewhat rough-around-the-edges introduction into this world.
Although deemed to be an “episode” by its indie developer, this first installment is a full-length game in its own right, weighing in at nearly 13 hours of play time. It focuses on the character of Kayleigh Bruskin, who is not actually a student at St Chris, but rather a pink-haired con artist who awakens in a battered van parked on the school’s property following a failed scam. In short order, Kayleigh finds her way inside the school, which is surrounded by police. After a bit of searching the empty halls, she encounters the students camped out in the gym and learns that they’re staging a protest against the establishment. (In particular they’re seeking free tuition, self-assessed finals, longer weekends, and no prejudice against the poor.) Kayleigh’s primary concern is laying low until she can determine what to do about her own situation. However, she very quickly becomes the protest's gopher, running various fetch quest errands for different students.
The story takes place in the present across three days, but at various points the events that led to Kayleigh’s arrival are explored. Unlike most adventures that provide backstory through expositional dialog, St Chris takes a more literal approach, flashing back into Kayleigh’s past. The flashback sequences are fully playable and were some of the most enjoyable parts of the game for me. From the beginning you know that Kayleigh wasn’t successful in her con, but through these scenes you find out exactly how her scheme went off the rails. These segments provide a nice level of intrigue and depth that the protest itself is strangely lacking.
In the present, Kayleigh makes the acquaintance of a sizable number of characters. While many of them, such as the charismatic but naïve protest leader Roger and the more worldly anarchist Martin, are set up such that they might come into natural conflict with one another, much of this seems to happen while Kayleigh is elsewhere in the school (presumably for future installments to flesh out in more detail). As such, the actual protest never really comes into focus and seems very low-key, to the point that several characters comment on a lack of media attention. Given that most of the students are depicted as just lounging about in the hallways, the feeling is that of a very relaxed atmosphere instead of a high-tension revolt.
This laid-back student attitude is reinforced by the game’s lack of character animation. The characters are hand-drawn in a graphic novel style with pencil crayon-esque coloring, which gives St Chris a unique look. The style is lovingly applied, especially to the dialog portraits for each character. Unfortunately, except for a handful of notable incidents, the only character animation to be found is that of Kayleigh walking from one place to another.
A similar visual treatment has been used for the locations themselves. As the students have locked themselves in the school, most of the action takes place in its rooms and corridors. Only during the flashback sequences does the game relocate to other areas like an internet café or high society party. From a functional standpoint, several room layouts provide one of the bigger challenges, as it’s not always apparent where exits are. Initially I thought I had searched the entire school and found no one in it because I failed to recognize that the bottom of the screen in one of the rooms led to another entire area of the school. This was not an isolated incident, as several other such rooms popped up throughout.
Finding exits is not the only hotspot hunting you’ll do. Many of the game’s activities require you to backtrack through the school looking for new hotspots that have become available or responses to existing hotspots that have changed. Mousing over a hotspot shows its name and clicking on it presents a series of context-specific options. These options are typically examine, use and take, or some subset of the three. Where characters are concerned, sometimes an option to talk to or listen also appears. Additionally, an inventory at the top of the screen allows you to use accumulated items on each other or within the environment. Though you collect a large inventory by story’s end, most of the focus is on directly interacting with hotspots in the rooms themselves. Much of the play time is spent wandering the same scenes, hoping to find an elusive hotspot. While a hotspot highlighter is provided, it does not indicate when interactive responses have changed, so you will have to do a good amount of trial and error throughout the game in order to progress.
The hotspot hunting is particularly noticeable as The St Christopher’s School Lockdown is an extremely linear experience. At any given point you will have exactly one thing to work on at a time. Early in the game you must find a disguise for Kayleigh, then you must find a way into the school, then youmust find the students, and so on. The game almost never provides you with multiple objectives to pursue in parallel. So if you get stuck on your current goal then you have no choice but to slog it out and find the missing hotspot or the inventory combination needed to proceed. It is this streamlined narrative that reveals the hotspot hunting to be so prominent and sometimes quite tedious to work through.
To be fair, the game does provide one scenario on the second day that bucks the linear trend to a degree. At one point Kayleigh and Roger find themselves locked in the teachers’ lounge and they have to devise a means of escape. Here there is still just one goal – escape – but you have several options through which to do it. While not exactly non-linear, just having the ability to choose your approach to the situation is a nice change of pace in a game that otherwise requires you to follow its prescribed sequence of events.Continued on the next page...