Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Final Cut

Review by Mike Phillips
July 2002

This is a tale of a game gone sour, mostly from a desire to market a product by paying homage to a legendary master of his art. It needn't have been that way, for this game could have stood on its own merits with a little more attention to originality and a little less desire to imitate Mr. Hitchcock's unparalleled style.

The Final Cut obviously wasn't presented by Alfred Hitchcock, but rather was inspired by him, and therein lies an enormous problem. I can play some round-ball and say my game is inspired by Michael Jordan, but after a few minutes it would become painfully evident that the only commonality I share with his Airness is our first name. Likewise, The Final Cut fails miserably at creating a "Hitchcockian" suspense thriller. For all we know, Mr. Hitchcock himself may have languished in obscurity attempting to create viable computer games, so why gamble with that nefarious movie/novel-to-game crossover that never seems to work?

Putting the Hitchcock fiasco aside, there are some promising aspects to the game if you are patient enough and dig very, very deeply.

Passionate Adventure (1924)

During the introduction you meet your in-game persona, Joseph Shamley, a psychic private detective from Los Angeles. The day before Joseph is about to embark on a long needed fishing trip, a striking young woman arrives in his office, placing a check on his assistant's desk, while never speaking a word. Apparently Joseph wasn't at all curious since the next time we see him, he's on the way to his favorite fishing hole.

En route he has an accident, or as he so eloquently (sarcasm intended) states, "our cars mated," involving a red Mercedes convertible driven by the aforementioned striking young woman. A chance meeting or, perhaps, a setup? Well, that's for you to decide. Joseph foregoes the fishing trip in lieu of the intrigue presented to him by this mute woman. He jumps in her car and they arrive at the estate of her uncle, Robert Marvin-Jordan, a wealthy recluse who is currently funding as well as controlling a pending film. Mr. Marvin-Jordan's fortune wasn't derived from film, but he has had a lifelong fascination with Hitchcock. Upon Joseph's arrival at the estate, he learns the crew has gone missing, and Mr. Marvin-Jordan wants him to find out what happened. If this all sounds contrived ... well, unfortunately it is.

During your investigation you'll meet the crew—the problem is nearly all of them have bought the farm by then, most in a very gruesome fashion. Everyone used an alias and everyone had various motives for killing at least one other crew member. Several of Robert's business dealings and business partners are introduced via discovered documents, dysfunctional family members enter the picture when roaming the estate, and red herrings are as abundant as ants at a Memorial Day picnic.

The plot is intriguing, even suspenseful at times, if you can endure being mired in total confusion until the epilogue, when everything finally comes together. Many may consider it an act of mercy by that point; it's a formula that works well in film and television, but in a game that can easily last over twenty hours it just doesn't fly. If copious note-taking isn't your idea of fun, spend your gaming dollars elsewhere.

The graphics are a mix of 2D backdrops and character models done in 3D. The backgrounds look amazing—shadowing from lights shown on walls, detailed paintings and furniture—the artists involved did wonderful work. Colors are a bit drab, but considering the nature of the game they're functional, setting the morose mood throughout. The 3D rendered characters are fair, not exactly up to today's standards. Lip-sync is nonexistent; character's mouths move randomly if at all.

Controls are a combination of keyboard and mouse. And the keyboard controls are fully remappable to suit your playing tastes, a welcome addition since I found the default controls extremely cumbersome. You have to walk to various game locales, which can be time-consuming, but the first trip is enjoyable if only to see the sights. Thereafter a zip feature can take you immediately to a place you have previously visited, a very nice touch.

Sound effects, while used sparingly, are quite good. While walking around the movie set one hears crickets chirping, thunder booming, several birds squawking, as well as passing airplanes and jets. Voice acting is passable, although there isn't much in the way of dialog. The anomaly in the voice acting occurs during the introduction—for some reason it doesn't sound like the same actor doing Joseph's voice throughout the game, and both the voice acting and dialog in the introduction are nothing short of horrid.

The game comes on two discs, and it must be started from disc one. Fortunately, if you have two drives, having both discs inserted gets around that annoying design flaw often seen in games. Save games are limited to ten slots and are annotated by date and time only.

Downhill (1927)

Back to sound effects—due to the lack of music in outdoor locales, the absence of footfalls is a rather glaring omission. Undoubtedly, the most accomplished Foley artist couldn't have pulled it off, however, as Joseph literally levitates up stairs and ladders. Clipping also rears its ugly head throughout the game—Joseph often reaches through a door in order to open it—a testament to how far behind most adventure games are in the world of 3D graphics.

Which provides a segue to the controls again—the cursorless interface works similarly to LucasArts adventure games of late. When Joseph approaches something that can be viewed/interacted with, his head turns to look at it. However, an icon flashes at the upper left of the screen and an incredibly annoying "blip" sound occurs to remind you that a particular action is available. It appears as though the designers wanted to appease everyone ... and failed. Either go with the immersion factor of no cursor or use point-and-click mouse control with a cursor. Individually both would have worked, but combining them creates an awkward, complex disaster.

Any adventure game hoping to rise above the recent glut of excruciatingly mediocre games needs a coherent, involving story line. Unfortunately, The Final Cut fails in this respect, adding itself to the growing list of adventures that never manage to spark any emotions, positive or negative. Brief clips from many of Hitchcock's films are used as "psychic" flashes, the problem being that it seems the story was constructed around these clips rather than woven from the ground up. I constantly had the feeling the designers were so busy attempting to flood the game with as many references to Hitchcock as they could that they forgot to develop the story. Now there's an ironic twist—a game inspired by Hitchcock with a weak story.

Puzzles in the game are extremely rudimentary, often downright absurd. The abundance of "puzzles" (if you will) involve figuring out which magnetic card unlocks which door. One puzzle requires you to follow a recipe to the letter; it's an exercise in tedium at best, hardly creative puzzle design. The worst "puzzle," and I refuse to even elaborate on it, is hilarious. That would be a good thing if The Final Cut was meant to be humorous; alas, it wasn't.

Breakdown (1955)

One of Hitchcock's greatest accomplishments was his masterful use of different camera angles, and The Final Cut uses this technique liberally ... too liberally. It works fine during cutscenes, but when Joseph is walking down a path and the camera insists on jumping around, utter chaos ensues. There are points at which you are moving Joseph and he disappears off screen—the only recourse is to randomly press movement keys until he reappears, a puzzle itself. Worse yet, Joseph can be standing still and camera angles will be switching back and forth simply because he is standing on a crossover point.

The absence of convincing dialog is another of the game's greatest flaws. When Joseph discovers a corpse, there is no shock or remorse expressed verbally; rather, a clue is entered into his PDA. It's impossible to become immersed in a story when the characters seem ambivalent about it.

The initial premise of the game, which occupies much of your gaming time, is nothing but fluff; the meat of the story is underdeveloped and poorly expounded. Storytelling, the backbone of an adventure game, appears to be a forgotten art, and that's a shame.

Bang! You're Dead (1961)

There are two versions of the game, European and North American. In the original (European) release, there is an incredibly inane, insipid, arcade sequence early in the game. Fortunately, it was removed from the NA release, and you'd never know it—the sequence did nothing for the plot; it simply extended the game with a lot of reloading. I guess it didn't make the final cut.

I borrowed an original release copy in order to play that part, and I was also informed the Euro release was buggy as all get-out and included a few dead ends. I can't comment on that as I played through the NA release twice and never encountered any serious problems. A few "hiccups" perhaps, but nothing that required a can of Raid to fix. I assume the developers fixed these problems, and they should be commended for that. If only they could have removed the Hitchcock references and further developed the story ... perhaps next time around.

One can only imagine how many classic games could have been ruined by this "presents" philosophy. Clint Eastwood Presents: Outlaws, Robert Wagner Presents: Thief, or Sigmund Freud Presents: Sanitarium ... the list could go on forever.

I can't in good conscience grade this game, with the arcade sequence in the Euro release, and if the bugs and dead ends do indeed exist, I'd have no qualms over giving it a . However, with the improvements, by no means does the NA release deserve a , nor does it deserve a . Playing The Final Cut was a similar experience to eating my Aunt Thelma's meatloaf. It's palatable but nothing to rave over. I must admit playing it was far from a torturous experience—in many respects I enjoyed it all while simultaneously hating it. Fellow adventure gamers may also find the game worth the time and money. Just don't expect filet mignons when Aunt Thelma's meatloaf is the entree.

That's the issue that perplexes me, though—it would be refreshing to see adventure game designers striving to create a masterpiece, rather than being satisfied with an average, unfinished, underdeveloped product. The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: Arxel Tribe
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: November 2001

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/Me
Pentium 333
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
8 MB video card (DirectX 7 compatible)
DirectX 7 (included)
24X CD-ROM
16-bit sound card
300 MB free hard drive space

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