3 Minutes to Midnight
It’s a little curious, with all the games I saw at E3, that Scarecrow Studio’s 3 Minutes to Midnight is the only classic point-and-click adventure of the bunch. The developers’ love for the golden days of the genre is quite evident in many of their design decisions. From the tongue-in-cheek humor to the pop-art visual style, this game looks like a holdover from the glory days of LucasArts.
The setting of 3 Minutes is an interesting one. It’s the 1940s, post-WWII, in New Mexico – you know, the place rumored to be full of secret military bases, crashed alien spaceships, and more conspiracies than you can shake a stick at. Well, get ready to throw in one more, because Betty Anderson has just awoken to find that every resident of her town, herself included, is suffering from a perplexing case of simultaneous amnesia. Add to that the fact that, just prior, a nearby dam blew up and now the area is suffering a total power loss, and you’ve got all the makings of a classic Cold War mystery.
Taking place entirely in one night, in the few hours leading up to midnight, the game features a cast of 36 characters, all of whom come with a backstory that can be uncovered through fastidious gameplay. Though Betty is the story’s main protagonist, players will also take on the role of another character during a handful of flashback scenes.
The demo I played took place just after Betty returned from the demolished dam, having found it locked up tight. Her search for the keys to the dam leads her to a nearby campsite, situated on a scenic lake. The whole scene takes place across two connected screens, with several points of interest in each. The game uses a simplified control scheme: left-clicking interacts with objects, moves Betty, and initiates dialog, while right-clicking is used to examine hotspots.
The solution to finding the keys is evident as soon as Betty steps foot onto the campsite. In plain view right in front of her is a girl named Pamela, who turns out to have the item in question. But in order to get them, Betty must first navigate through a dialog puzzle with Pamela, who has a split personality to boot. Then Betty must accomplish several tasks at the campsite to prove herself worthy of becoming a camp counselor and, therefore, be granted access to the keys.
The process of accomplishing Betty’s various tasks was enjoyable, and there were enough objects to find and places to try using them to encourage some creative thinking trial-and-error. The logic difficulty was pretty well dialed in to the sweet spot, though my limited window of time necessitated one or two pointers in the right direction. For such a somber-sounding narrative setup, the humor is quite light-hearted, though some of it did fall a little flat for me, particularly the Pamela character whose affliction was portrayed a little on the wacky side.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with 3 Minutes to Midnight. I’m particularly intrigued by the story setup and the general atmosphere of a 1940s black site mystery. The final game will feature a total of 54 scenes, some of which will change depending on the time of day, and support 15 different subtitled languages while being fully voiced in English. The team has their sights set on April 2019 and is considering releases on virtually all platforms, including PCs, consoles and mobile systems. A Kickstarter campaign to fully flesh the game out is planned to take place this September.
The Sinking City
Frogwares comes with some serious pedigree in the adventure gaming scene – after all, this is the studio behind the Sherlock Holmes series. Thematically, there is probably at least a little overlap between Victorian London and early 20th century New England, and when one adds the otherworldly sense of Lovecraftian-inspired mythos into the mix, it’s not much of a leap to believe that The Sinking City is in good hands.
Just what exactly those hands have been busy with is something I was able to take a look at myself when I sat down with Frogwares’ Community Manager Sergey Oganesyan as he walked me through a demo of the upcoming open-world action-investigation game.
Players take on the role of Charles Reed, a private investigator who can’t understand why he’s lost his memory, and even more why strange cases of insanity have been reported all across the continent. His investigation of these phenomena, and the otherworldly visions he’s been experiencing, brings him to Oakmont, Massachusetts, a fishing town flooded for months but whose residents still, strangely, refuse to leave. Little does Charles know that he’s in for one hell of a ride.
The Sinking City isn’t designed to be one straight shot through from beginning to end. Charles is on the trail of solving his own main mystery, true, but along the way he will come across several diversionary side cases you may wish to solve, which all help to paint a disturbing overall picture of what’s happening in Oakmont.
The demo began as a desperate wife sought Charles out in his hotel room, begging him to search for her missing husband. Her only lead: the address to a run-down fishing hut he uses. This is the first of several occasions when you are given a choice of how to respond and treat the people you interact with; these choices can have an impact on the outcome of your investigations (more than one ending to the overall game is also possible). Side missions must be organically discovered during the course of the investigation, encouraging players to be thorough and explore.
The game also doesn’t guide you along a set of waypoints to the solution of each case. Instead, to find the location of the fisherman’s hut, you must consult your map of Oakmont – split into seven districts complete with street names – and locate the correct intersection. Oakmont can be traversed in three ways: on foot in dry areas, by boat, or diving through the city’s many flooded streets and canals. Fast travel is available, but only to certain locations and only after they’ve already been discovered.
Arriving at the fisherman’s cabin to find it locked, Charles must climb his way inside, where several more gameplay systems are revealed. Evidence such as newspaper articles that further the investigation and the game’s lore can be found scattered around the environments. Charles can also pick up camera film, allowing him to take photographs that serve as evidence dialog topics during encounters with other townsfolk. For example, the gigantic drawing of an eye scrawled in blood on a wall in the cabin.
Ammo, too, can be found, and before he leaves the premises again, Charles will need to defend his life against some Lovecraftian monstrosities. This is where The Sinking City most sharply departs from its Sherlock predecessors. Drawing your gun as twisted masses of flesh shambles and shuffles toward you, you’ll engage in some light gunplay – a few rounds fired off to down each nightmarish opponent, nothing more fancy than that. However, coming face to face with hellish abominations and other stressful sights will take a toll on Charles’ sanity, which plays out by visually obscuring the on-screen image and making Charles see flashes of eternal space. One such sight is the headless corpse that you found bled out shortly before.
From here, the demo exhibited an interesting twist: there are multiple avenues to follow up on, either heading to the library to research the bloody symbol you discovered or to the newspaper office to follow up on one of the recovered article scraps. Which steps players take next will affect the outcome of this investigation – for me, it was the bad one. Thinking myself incredibly clever and insightful, my choices instead landed me right in the middle of a trap. If I’d chosen differently, so I’m told, I would have been able to sniff the ambush out ahead of time. But the cases are designed to end in a variety of ways, including not at all – perhaps if a key person or item is no longer available, the case simply remains an open mystery. Resolving cases satisfactorily can net Charles bonuses that will help him in solving the overarching mystery.
Apart from the mild action-oriented gunplay, there are also some segments focused on stealth as well as some light crafting. But despite this and the tense, horror-like atmosphere, Sergey stressed that The Sinking City, at its core, is an open-world investigation. The team still has a long road ahead spent polishing and fine-tuning the game, but what’s on display so far, particularly the dark atmosphere drenched in Lovecraftian imagery, is intriguing enough to keep a close eye on this one. The full 30-50 hour game is planned to release on March 21, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.Continued on the next page...