Beneath: A Transformation by Graham Lowther

This one was kind of weird. I didn’t have a clue what it was really about and most of my time seemed to be spent wandering aimlessly back and forth trying desperately to figure out what I was meant to be doing. I don’t generally like games like this. I don’t like starting a game without having a clue who I am or what I’m meant to be doing, unless, of course, figuring out these things is the whole point of the game. But here I don’t think it is the point. It’s just… confusing.

A few things added to general weirdness of the game and made precious little sense. It’s described as dark outside, yet I’m able to see a glove lying on the ground from several locations away. However, it won’t let me read a book I’m carrying due to it being too dark. So… I can see a glove from several locations away yet I’m not able to read a book I’m carrying in my hand? To further complicate this, there are all manner of locations in the game which you’d normally expect to be lit (shops for instance) yet you still can’t read the book in those locations because it’s still too dark. According to another review of the game I read, the book can only be read in a certain location due to the lack of lighting, yet even when you’re in a location with (I would assume) adequate lighting, you’re still informed it’s too dark to read it. This seemed to be a perfect example of an author wanting a puzzle to work in a certain way and forcing the player to figure it out, yet leaving other, far more plausible options unavailable because they didn’t fit in with what he was aiming for.

There’s a walkthrough included (always a good sign as far as I’m concerned) but this one didn’t help me when I got jumped by some sinister cop outside the police station and locked in a dark cell. As far as I could tell, the walkthrough didn’t seem to cover the cell (it lists only the commands you need to type and doesn’t refer to individual locations or puzzles so unless you follow it command by command, it’s difficult to tell just where you are and which bit you should be looking at) so whether it’s possible to escape another way, or if you’re never meant to get captured in the first place, I don’t know. The cell was a little buggy in that it would let me examine the book I was carrying, but stop me seeing anything else due it to being too dark.

The town the game is set in – Stregoicavar – is a pretty empty and desolate one. The few people I encountered seemed ill-inclined to engage in much conversation with me. One man I met in a pet shop proved a little more forthcoming and I even succeeded in buying a dog from him, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it out of the shop afterwards so that was money wasted. The dog just sat where it was and resisted all my attempts to either move it or get it to follow me. But then buying anything was problematic. The game won’t simply let me PAY MAN or GIVE MONEY, I have to give the exact right amount for everything I want to buy. No change is given, which is awkward from a game playing point of view and unrealistic from a logical point of view. Not to be mention being a major pain.

Puzzles range from the blindingly obvious to the so obscure it’s a wonder you’ll ever figure them out. Some you’ll probably solve without even realising you need to, others you’ll never even realise need solving until you consult the walkthrough. I played this game after reading several other reviews of it and I gather I’m not the only one who felt this way. Certain actions need to be completed in order to allow progress at a later stage of the game, but no indication is given at the time that these things need to be done. There’s no way to figure them out. Most of the time it seems likely to be a case of (for example) running into a locked door later on and only then realising you needed to pick up the key in the first location and not the broom.

There seemed to be a lot more going on than seemed apparent from my first play through the game. As well as the conversation I overheard with the sinister cop, there’s an ancient man lying in a groove in a cliff on the outskirts of town who starts mentioning things in the book you’re carrying, indicating that the events of the book have either started to affect the town itself or simply that you’re a character in the selfsame book. I quite liked this idea but it couldn’t really make up for the game’s many other shortcomings.

I was left with decidedly mixed feelings about the game. On one hand, I found myself coming dangerously close to liking it. Not a lot, but enough to make me wish the beginning had been better written and gave an indication of what I needed to do, as well as the puzzles being reworked to make them a little more obvious. On the other hand, blindly stumbling around and not having a clue what I’m meant to be doing isn’t much fun, so while overall I did like the game, I felt I would have liked it a lot more if it hadn’t been so confusing or picky about certain things. The item carrying restriction really didn’t help either.

5 out of 10