The Watchmaker

Review by Old Rooster
June 2002

Adventure Game of the Year?

Let me save some suspense, and the effort of scrolling to the last paragraph, by saying right up front that The Watchmaker is a very fine adventure game—one of the best I've played in the last couple of years, and well worth your purchase and time. Now, let me tell you a bit about it (hopefully, without giving away too much of the mystery). I'm going to sprinkle the review with a good many quotes from major characters, often bringing insight, sometimes a smile, occasionally a groan.

"What Do You Mean 'We;' I Usually Work Alone" —Darrel
"I Can See We're off to a Good Start" —Victoria

Vic and Darrel are perhaps, one may hope, the beginning of a new problem-solving, mystery-unraveling detective pairing we'll see in future titles from Trecision and Got Game Entertainment. They may not replace in our hearts the joy we experienced with George and Nico in the Broken Sword series, but they do bring their own particular personalities and strengths to our story. Darrel is a fairly lightweight expert in paranormal phenomena, while Victoria is a dry-as-a-bone lawyer, the more intellectual of the two. Darrel's the "right brain"—insightful, a bit flighty, creative; Victoria the "left"—logical, organized, practical. They remind me a bit of Mulder and Scully from The X-Files.

After a brief explanation in London, they're dropped at the gates of an imposing, and quite beautiful, Austrian castle. Their mission is to "recover a device resembling a huge pendulum which, stolen by a group of religious fanatics, must be located and stopped before midnight to avoid possible catastrophe!"

"Before midnight" gives our pair 15 hours from the time of arrival to complete their investigation and foil the villains. The game use a clock passage approach, which is very much one of its strengths. Tasks must be completed in small segments, typically of 10 or 15 minutes. If the clock moves, this means you have, at least minimally, spoken to whom you need to speak to, picked up essential inventory, and sometimes performed a required action.

"I'm Going to Get Lost Soon with All These Doors; Couldn't They Give Us a Map?" —Darrel

Another of the fine characteristics of The Watchmaker is the free roaming of the castle that is allowed and even encouraged—except for initially locked areas. You're encouraged to explore. Monsters aren't jumping out of hallways (a la Alone in the Dark 4) and there is no rush, at least in terms of your gameplay. I found that visiting the various floors, exploring accessible rooms, having a few conversations, and letting Darrel or Victoria identify various locked doors saved time later when I remembered an area or object that might be needed. In other words, Darrel's a bit lazy; make your own map!

This relative freedom of movement is but one of the exemplary characteristics of a smooth, efficient and very well-designed game engine. From initial installation (about 400 MB) to the completion of the game, I had not one crash or even hiccup. There are plenty of save game slots (I used 38), and all loading and transitions were quickly done (as in 3 seconds!). Mouse/cursor-directed movement is available, as is arrow control, which is a bit more precise. Left mouse key moves or identifies, while the right opens doors, starts conversations, activates inventory (brought up by the tab key). Topics within those conversational trees are greyed out once discussed. A PDA (personal digital assistant) is available for each character, enabling not only notemaking of events and circumstances, but also the recording and playing back of tones—such as a telephone number—quite necessary in one situation. F8 switches from Darrel to Victoria, while another tab option allows inventory exchange or bringing both characters into the same room. The only real problem I encountered with control came as a learning experience very early in the game when I first realized the greater precision with arrow movement and the value of the A and Z keys in raising or lowering your vantage point. In that regard, a first-person viewpoint (not movement) is available (default is third-person), which allows about 180 degrees of panning, as well as closer examination of an object or area. The manual is one of the best I've seen—complete, logical, readable without squinting.

"And to Think, There Are Men as Old as Him Who Are Still Really Fascinating!" —Jude (Regarding Old Rooster?)

No, the quote refers to another character, I'm afraid. But it's one I just had to use! This paragraph belongs to the graphics. The Watchmaker is a beautiful game, allowing a range of configurations for the impressive 3D engine. Colors are vibrant; rooms and decorations are created with obvious love and care; little touches abound—such as the time changes being evident outside, not to mention the eclipse at one point. The clouds move, bringing a greater touch of realness to the experience. The castle ranges in decor from benign, hotel-like furnishings in the main mansion to the darker, mysterious hallways and rooms of the Old Wing. Pixel-finding is generally reasonable and hotspots are clearly evident, aided by clarity in the graphics. The designers had a lot of fun with mirrors, giving us ample opportunities to see the moving reflection of our characters. Lip movement of the cast is nicely done, as is figure modeling (they look as you think they should). Indeed, Greta, the housekeeper, is a dead ringer for our Helga, both in appearance and style.

"There's Something Not Quite Right with These People, and I'd Prefer Not to Talk About It" —Jude

But let's talk about it, Jude, since you're the single biggest offender. Ironically, one of the things "not quite right" is the voice acting, which, to be kind, is uneven, and to be more generally precise, is basically awful. I'm sorry, but this is the area keeping the game from our coveted Gold Star rating. Jude, the supervisor's wife, sounds throughout the game as if she'd just gotten up and/or is drugged. Almost all of the script reading (I can't call it "acting") is done with flat, lifeless renderings. For Victoria, a lawyer, this may seem appropriate (remember, she's the "Scully type"), but Darrel sounds incredibly amateurish, as do most of the cast, except perhaps for the cook and the housekeeper. It's a shame, really, since there is a very large script, with many conversation trees, and the vocal renderings often lead what is being said not to be taken as seriously as it should be. You laugh or groan when you should be listening carefully and taking notes.

Little touches of humor serve to relieve the gradually building tension as well as the occasional frustration of how to solve a particular puzzle. Victoria comments, while exploring the laundry: "I detect a smell of dirty socks; I'll leave it alone." Our dufus, Darrel, has a couple of things to say when leaving a sauna: "Things are starting to heat up a bit too much," and, "I've got enough to be sweating over for one day."

Saving the overall sound category, somewhat, is the supplied music, which I found much to my liking, leaving it on throughout the game. Different themes are played in different settings—from light to foreboding, as the situation warrants. In addition, ambient sounds are nicely done. Darrel's footsteps, for example, move from muffled on the carpet to quite sharp while on the tile floor.

"Pharmacists from Hell" —Cook

This clue, from the rather bitter cook, is given early on, suggesting deep and hidden mysteries within this lovely castle. For about the first third, the game seems a bit dry and uneventful. But once the Old Wing is unlocked and cumulative clues begin to come together, the compelling narrative picks up considerably. Indeed, about two-thirds of the way through, there is a large cutscene giving major background (not to be revealed here, my friends!), which I found highly motivating as I continued my dual-character journey.

"Damn, It's Written in Latin; I'm Never Going to Understand It" —Darrel

As mentioned, Victoria is the intellectual, or at least scholar, of the pair. In that regard, there are certain things only one of your characters, Darrel or Vic, can do and discover, as in conversations, or reading Latin! So at times inventory needs to be exchanged; Vic, instead of, or as well as, Darrel, needs to speak with the maid; and on some occasions, both Darrel and Victoria need to be present in the same room. I found this fun, not frustrating, and feel it added considerably to my enjoyment of the game.

Puzzles are reasonable and logical, typically with fairly obvious clues (with a couple of exceptions). You'll sometimes exclaim: "Why, of course, that's it!" after a solution comes to mind in the middle of the night. Inventory item exchanging, combining, and usage is smooth. If an item is inappropriate, your character simply comments: "That won't work here." And, again, the neat usage of small time or chapter segments fairly assures you won't progress without doing what you need to do up to that point.

"Where Is the Old Watchmaker?" —A Diary

Let me offer a few "hints and tips" for your game journey.

  • Read the manual. Everything from video card adjustment to control/interface is covered very well.
  • Explore and experiment. Use the early stages to make a map, get used to character movement.
  • Take liberal notes. The PDA is nice, but I ended up with 12 yellow legal pages worth of scribblings.
  • Talk to everyone with both Vic and Darrel—different information is sometimes forthcoming.
  • Keep Vic and Darrel in different locations to aid in quick geographic transitions.
  • Use the arrow keys a lot for movement, especially up close with objects (the well and trash can early on).
  • Use the first-person viewpoint, especially up close, to explore in more detail.
  • Use the A and Z (raising and lowering keys) to aid in detail analysis—of a bookcase, for example.
  • Finally, as with all adventures, back away for awhile if frustrated and let your thoughts simmer. The solution will come!

"There Are No Roses Without Thorns, Dear" —Jude

The Watchmaker is one of the best pure adventure titles released in the last two years, and it is my pick, at this point, for "Adventure Game of the Year" (given its 2002 North American release date). We adventure reviewers are sometimes accused of wearing rose-colored glasses. Well, there are thorns, and all is not perfect. Indeed, my scoring result is a thumb up rather than a gold star due to a couple of thorns. Voice acting is generally dreadful; pixel-finding is sometimes very picky; the game is hard. But if you wear your gardening gloves, the roses far outshine the thorns!

The Watchmaker is a beautiful game to behold, with an excellent and efficient interface and control management scheme. The story is compelling, the puzzles are logical, and the characters are interesting. You'll have moments of frustration, puzzlement, even boredom, in your 40+ hours of mystery unraveling, but, at the end, I'm convinced that you, like me, will find the journey well worth the effort. We're grateful to Trecision for making the game and to Got Game Entertainment for releasing it here, and we truly hope this will be the first of other Darrel and Victoria adventures! The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Trecision
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Release Date: June 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

PII 266 MMX (PIII recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
8 MB 3D video card (16 MB recommended)
150 MB free hard disk space (400 MB recommended)

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