A few months ago I thought it would be funny to do a ton of reviews of FMV games in the form of a Leonard Maltin review guide and make it into a zine. Then after a day or two I got bored of the idea and moved on. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to the idea. I’ve certainly played enough games for me to review. There’s also a lot of caveats with this kind of thing like “what is a FMV game?” and a medium like video even being considered a game genre in the first place. The format these reviews followed as the game title, year, the number of stars out of 5 that I would give it, the developer, some of the actors, and then my thoughts. Anyway, here’s my dump of reviews I had done for the zine.
7th Guest, The. (1993). 2 ½. Dev: Trilobyte. Robert Hirschboeck, Debra Ritz Mason. This game was groundbreaking when it was released but it’s hard to recommend now. Conceptually the game isn’t a bad idea, you wander around a haunted house and do puzzles, and successfully completing a puzzle means being rewarded with some fun FMV. Unfortunately many of the puzzles you are required to do require lots of trial and error or they’re just not fun to do. Maybe they were the standard at the time but mazes and sliding tile puzzles are exhausting these days. There’s a few gems in there though such as the famous cake puzzle where you need to divide a cake into equal sizes with the same number of pieces. The parts of the game outside the puzzles are charming though. Robert Hirschboeck is a lot of fun to watch in his over the top performance as the evil Stauf and the soundtrack by George “The Fat Man” Sanger remains a classic.
Book of Watermarks, The (1999). 2 ½. Dev: Watermarks. Jack Donner. This Myst-clone won’t be for most, but those that are into the aesthetics and music will find it delightful. The game has the aesthetics of a Pure Moods compilation music cd commercial from the mid 90s. Features music by Enya’s sister. The game has almost no plot so the only reason to play it is for the art and music. The game is short and the puzzles aren’t difficult, but many may not finish it because the slow player movement speed makes the game feel like a chore. This game was released in Japan only but all the cutscenes are in English so readers will be able to play it.
Conspiracies (2003). 1 1/2. Dev: Anima PPD. Agelos Vougas, Anestis Kokkinidis. In this bizarre adventure game you play as Nick Delios, a detective who exclusively wears grey sweatpants and hoodies, as you investigate a murder of a small-time crook. This case takes the player all around the world, to outer space, traveling through time, and also a concert for a Greek blues band that the developers seem to be a fan of since you must watch a music video featuring them. Doing a game inspired by the Tex Murphy series is a great idea in theory but the game fails to replicate anything that made those games fun. Puzzles are often illogical, the limited inventory space is frustrating when you need to guess what is actually needed, and the plot is impossible to understand. The only scenario where I can recommend this game is if you want to keep a walkthrough open and experience the strange fever dream that is this game.
Conspiracies 2: Lethal Networks (2011). 1 ½ . Dev: Anima PPD. Agelos Vougas, Anestis Kokkinidis. Nick Delios returns in a mystery that can’t even replicate the weird charm the original game had. The studio spent eight years working on the game but all of the issues that existed in the original game return. The only improvements that make it into the game are some minor visual updates. I suppose it’s impressive that even with the big time gap between sequels, even though the game itself is only set a few months after the first, they were able to get the actors to return.
Contradiction (2015). 4. Dev: Baggy Cat. Rupert Booth, Paul Darrow, Anarosa De Eizaguirre Butler. In Contradiction you play as Detective Inspector Jenks, who is investigating the murder of a young woman in a small town in England. You explore the town, asking the residents questions about her and other conversation topics. During these conversations, you will be able to snip together pieces that form a contradiction and confront the people about them to learn more. The highlight of the game is the performance of Detective Inspector Jenks, wonderfully played by Rupert Booth. While most performances in the game are fairly grounded, Rupert’s performance is over the top, in a way that’s reminiscent of Nicholas Cage, but never gets annoying. It’s such a joy to watch him talk to other characters who almost seem like they’re struggling to comprehend the behavior of such an unusual person. Of course, none of this would matter if the gameplay was bad, but the gameplay loop of asking people questions and using that info to find contradictions works very well. I would love to see a sequel.
Dancing for Cats (2021). 5. Dev: Jonny Hopkins. I may be slightly biased because this game features my cat, but I think you could make a strong argument that this cat-focused rhythm game is the best game of all time.
Devo Presents: Adventures of the Smart Patrol (1996). 1. Dev: Inscape. Jamie Rega, Gerald V. Casale, Tom Finnegan. Even hardcore Devo fans will want to stay away from this mess. Interesting visuals can’t make up for the dull puzzles, flat humor, and a frustrating timer that makes this game a chore to play. Stay away but do check out Inscape’s other games. Fans may at least enjoy hearing some new music by Devo as well as muzak versions of their classic hits.
Killing Time (1995). 2. Dev: Studio 3DO. This horror FPS has good ideas but poor design makes it a boring experience. If Trilobyte decided to make a FPS instead of the 7th Guest, it would be like this, a shooter with puzzles in a fairly open world with lots of FMV. The FMV scenes are integrated with the world, meaning you walk up to nodes and the FMV of ghosts starts playing without it going into a cutscene. Weirdly enough, when they decided to bring it to PC and Mac, instead of just porting the 3DO version, they remade the game so the levels are better designed, and added a couple new weapons too. Unfortunately the FMV is lower quality and they made the enemies bullet spongy so neither version is ideal.
Myst (1993). 4 ½. Dev: Cyan. Rand Miller, Robyn Miller. The game that helped start the multimedia revolution holds up better than most of the games that followed it. Exploring the various worlds is still a joy, with the exception of one or two parts, and the game is nowhere near as difficult as I remember it being once you figure out the gameplay loop. The performances by the developer are a campy treat and serve as a nice reward for making progress in the game. Go with the most recent Myst remake if your computer can run it.
Pyst (1996). 1. Dev: Parrot Interactive. John Goodman. This parody of Myst is awful. None of the humor in the game works. The premise of the game is that the island of Pyst, a parody of Myst island, has become a tourist destination that has been trashed by all of the visitors. You flip through a series of postcards containing photos of locations from Pyst island, and click around to discover animations and jokes. None of it works. Even the appearance of John Goodman does nothing. The only redeeming feature of this whole debacle is the Making of Pyst video which is an amusing fever dream. A special edition was followed a year later that featured teasers for some of their upcoming games, including an unreleased parody of the Myst sequel Riven called Driven where the joke seems to be that lots of cars exist in the world.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst (1997). 5. Dev: Cyan. Rand Miller, John Keston, Sheila Goold. Cyan builds on what they established with Myst to deliver one of the best in the genre. While the worlds created in Myst are a joy to explore, every island in Riven feels as though it could be a real place, including the puzzles which feel like tools in a functioning world and not just puzzles for the sake of having obstacles. It is one of the finest examples of worldbuilding in games. The acting is also a big leap over the performances in the original game. My only complaint is that it’s a little too difficult.
She Sees Red (2019). 3. Dev: Rhinotales. Veronika Plyashkevich. She Sees Red is an interactive movie about a detective investigating a murder inside of a nightclub. Each playthrough of the game is about 30 minutes long and you are expected to play through the game a couple of times to learn all the pieces of the plot. I thought the 30 minute runtime for a single viewing was perfect and really appreciated being able to skip scenes I’ve seen before. Like a lot of FMV games, there are Good and Bad choices but you’re not given any insight into which one leads to a more favorable outcome and unfortunately the writing is often much better in the Good choice. However you’re expected to explore all of these choices to figure out the entire plot. Despite the occasionally inconsistent writing, most of it is pretty good regardless of the decisions you make. The acting is enjoyable as well, especially by the lead actress.
Space Ace (1983). 1 ½. Dev: Advanced Microcomputer Systems. Space Ace is the second game by Don Bluth Productions. Just like Dragon’s Lair, it featured animation being played from a laserdisc. Space Ace introduced a few innovations to the laserdisc game format. Unfortunately the game still suffers from the same flaws that Dragon’s Lair has. There’s only one correct action during almost all sequences and failure to do the action leads to you repeating the same series of quick time sequences until you press the correct series of buttons. This forces you to focus entirely on looking for flashing yellow spots on the screen instead of being able to appreciate the incredible animation by Don Bluth Productions. It feels like a big disappointment compared to the interesting variety of creatures you find in the castle from Dragon’s Lair. Much like Dragon’s Lair 1 and 2, it’s more fun watching Space Ace be played than to actually play it.
Under a Killing Moon (1994). 4. Dev: Access Software. James Earl Jones, Brian Keith, Russell Means, Margot Kidder, Chris Jones. This soft reboot of the Tex Murphy series delights with its futuristic noir setting, puzzles, and performances. The frequent tonal shifts and hammy performances may be off putting to some but I found it charming. The controls may take some getting used to but it’s an interesting approach to navigating an adventure game and I came to appreciate it by the end. Puzzles are mostly good too but players will be frustrated by the cliched shredded paper puzzles and stealth section.
Yeli Orog (2018). 3. Dev: Yeli Orog Games. A first person horror adventure game that might be worth checking out if you want something about an hour long. The game is a slideshow like Myst but uses video to show leaves moving in the breeze and waves crashing on the shore to make the scenery feel more alive. Most interactive items are either highlighted or glowing, eliminating the need for pixel hunting. Despite the short length, the ability to save would have been appreciated. Yeli Orog is about a bizarre stone tablet written in the Celtiberian language found during an archaeological dig. The game is at its best when it’s focused on horror and surrealism and drags when it’s trying to explain the lore. The FMV looks great. Aside from a puzzle near the end that I found frustrating, most of the puzzles felt fair and the game moves quickly. It’s free!