The Hand of Glory – Part One preview
Adventure games are dead, goes the old (and very tired) adage. Yet here we are in 2020 with the release of The Hand of Glory, a point-and-click adventure game in the most traditional sense – or at least, the first half of it, with the remainder to follow shortly. And whilst there are some issues with developer Madit Entertainment's game, there is also lots to enjoy too. There's its Broken Sword-style pairing of lead characters, a huge story spanning lots of locations, and even some exciting timed puzzle sequences to shake up the usual slower pace. All of these elements add up to what seems to be an anomaly in this day and age – a nuts and bolts old-fashioned adventure game that can still delight and entertain a modern-day audience. Not for the first time, it appears that 2020 has a surprise up its sleeve.
In The Hand of Glory, you play as LAZARUS BUNDYYYY (as he often likes to shout, as loudly as possible), a once-star Miami detective who's fallen from grace following a bungled attempt to catch the dangerous serial killer known as Blowtorch. Desperate to get his job back after being suspended from the force, our wannabe Sherlock Holmes decides to secretly investigate a new case of the disappearance of local teenager Kathrin Mulzberg, in the hope that success will grant him another crack at the detective role he gets such a buzz out of.
Of course, things spiral out of control and along the way to uncovering what's really going on you'll travel to several locations across the city, from a sewer network to Kathrin's family's imposing mansion. A map highlighting the different places you can visit pops up as you exit one location to choose the next (though confusingly, it's not available until you've gone past a certain stage in the beginning chapter of the game). Upon arrival in a given area, it's a simple matter of using a left mouse click on objects that can be interacted with and right-click to examine them if the cursor appears as a red arrow – or only examine them with either if your cursor appears as a magnifying glass.
Helpfully there's also a hotspot indicator if you press the mouse wheel, which is especially useful as the developers have peppered scenes with plenty of items to scrutinise and/or pick up and put in your inventory. A notebook is another handy addition to your arsenal, keeping track of your latest objectives, whether it’s finding the ingredients for a dish of succulent meatballs or gathering materials to scare an old woman (some of the more amusing and bizarre tasks Lazarus finds himself getting tangled up in during his mission).
Amongst these objectives you could also include “trying not to die,” as there are several more frantic instances in the game where Lazarus can get killed. Thankfully, even if this does happen the game will restart only a few seconds before Mr Bundy meets his impending doom, so there's little Sierra-like frustration with suddenly meeting your maker. These timed sequences, where one or two false moves can end in disaster, add a nice change of pace to the game proper, although you will begin to question just how many times Lazarus can fail to remember to bring a gun along considering the sheer amount of scrapes he ends up in!
Although these setups are for the most part fun and exciting, certain complex puzzles in the game require much larger leaps of logic and highlight The Hand of Glory's lack of hint system. One in particular sees you trying to open a set of drawers in a certain order, which needs you to leap through several hoops of infuriating logic to understand what on earth you should be doing. I eventually ended up grasping for a walkthrough for help. At least there are only two standout puzzles, including the drawers nightmare, that are confusing to the point of frustration, with most others being signposted much more clearly. Case in point: a poster about winter sports advertises how “the cold gives you energy” when you're searching for ways to restart a dead battery. A few more clues along this vein for the more obtuse puzzles, or some form of overt hints would have made all the difference when things got decidedly more testing. It's hopefully something the developers will consider implementing before completing part two.
Whilst most of the game sees you play as Lazarus (or Lars to his friends), there's also lots of interaction with Alice, a young intern at the police department who's wise beyond her years and helps the detective out on his adventure. She's even very briefly playable. In what for now appears to be more of a minigame than a larger feature, Alice, being a former student in the art of kinesics, is able to study the behaviour of people around her to create a “profile” of them. This basically boils down to matching up people's expressions and gestures from a list of possible options (e.g. do crossed arms mean a defensive position or demonstration of force?) and from these conclusions drawing a general hypothesis about the character's state of mind (e.g. they're insecure) which will then open up new dialogue options for Alice to use. Though pretty easy, it's an inventive break from the main routine of picking up and combining items. Let's hope there's more opportunity to switch between the pair in the second half, as at the moment this is more a brief diversion than a fully blown game mechanic.
Voice acting for the large cast of characters, from the poor, easily frightened cleaner to a feuding builder and blacksmith, is relatively strong, with Matthew Curtis's loud and occasionally just a tad hammy Lazarus a highlight. Instrumental music refrains loop in and out of scenes, only sporadically becoming irritating if you find yourself lingering too long in one place to work out a particularly taxing puzzle. Every location has been hand-drawn in 2D with a slight cartoonish feel, and whilst characters’ facial animations in particular appear a little rough around the edges, the backdrops themselves evoke the bustling sun-kissed streets of Miami with charm and sparkle.
The story takes several dramatic twists and turns, and should last around seven or eight hours from start to finish, depending how stuck you get on some of the harder bits. And that’s just the first half of the game. There are naturally plenty of questions left unanswered as you reach the midway break. One particularly surprising revelation right near the end comes a little out of nowhere and could perhaps have been signposted better. Nevertheless, the promise of an entirely new city to explore and a mystery to hopefully solve makes the final half an enticing prospect. Indeed, if part one’s issues with a couple of devious puzzles can be addressed and the plot's many loose ends woven together convincingly, the second installment of The Hand of Glory could well add to the increasing tally of high quality adventure games released this year when it arrives in September. Now, what was that about adventure games being dead?