Grimnoir, by ProP
Shake equal parts Detectiveland and the Dresden Files, add a dash of Larry Correia and one drop of The Witcher, serve over ice while the rain pelts the uncanny streets. Refreshingly, our occult detective isn’t overstacked with magic powers, just a silver dagger, a pot of salt, a monster-hunter’s guide, and his brains. There are seven stories to play through (plus a bonus one) and though the degree of actual puzzle-solving in them varies, the tone is kept up well throughout.
I sometimes had trouble clicking on a link. When this happened, I found that they’d return to clickability if I went to my office on the left sidebar (sometimes the game won’t actually let you go back there, but the links will still refresh). If you’re actually in your office already, ‘Speak to Solene’ and telling her you’ve nothing to say will achieve the same result.
If you want to play the bonus story, you’ll want to visit Dermot’s Diner as early as possible in every mystery (this is mentioned in the walkthrough, but since there are lots of other games to play in the contest, I guess it does no harm to mention it here). More spoilery review below:
[spoiler]What I liked: Solomon’s Modern Grimoire is a lovingly-researched monster bestiary. It’s essential to read it right through to get the satisfaction of actually working out what monster you’re facing, but it doesn’t feel like a chore and its purpose is clear: not all monsters are instantly distinguishable. On the basis of another review I’ve read, I didn’t find it hard to correctly ID each monster – but their motivations were definitely somewhat trickier.
On reading the Grimoire, we learn that some monsters are vulnerable to sage smoke, some can be poisoned by anise seeds, one variety can be dispatched by burying them in incense, some can perhaps be outwitted, while another is coldly logical and cannot be fooled. Notably, some can be warded off with protective runes or trapped in a circle of salt. It all seems to be in danger of achieving that rare thing: just the right level of puzzle intricacy set-up. But unless I’m being dim, most of this doesn’t feature in the stories themselves. It bummed me out a little, since it was on the cusp of puzzle greatness. You can learn about monsters enough to ID them – but you can’t equip ace paranormal PI Jacob Morris to match their weaknesses.
Embarrassingly, my succubus sidekick Solene obviously has more detective potential than me, and eventually proves it. That makes sense; I’m a sad, shabby gumshoe, she’s a sex demon who can use weaponised persuasion on anyone attracted to women (good thing I’m not). But unnatural glamour has its drawbacks for a detective. I’m gonna find a down-at-heel lesbian monster-hunter who’s teamed up with an incubus, and go into partnership. We’ll be unstoppable.
There’s an ongoing tug-of-war between problem-solving and narrative that gets more serious as the game progresses, to the point where the final mystery is (at the risk of revealing that I’ve stupidly missed something obvious) pure exposition, although its outcome varies depending on how successful you’ve been at identifying monsters and their motivations. I more-or-less know how it’s going to play out, and even with the ‘best’ ending I can’t take any of the precautions a monster-hunter might be expected to take, for example, using the self-same protective runes I’ve read about in Solomon’s Modern Grimoire. Dammit, game. I really liked you, but you blew a smoke ring at me, and your heels clicked off into the night. I turned that useless feather I kept in my pocket into a quill pen.
But this is nevertheless plenty of game. I liked cynical Solene (actually, better than I liked Grim, who I got the sense was more writerly trouble than his name was worth) and a more equal distribution of detecting tasks between her and Morris would have been great.[/spoiler]
Prize: A guest ticket to the first Devilled Omelette Eating Challenge at Dermot’s Diner. Also, a gallon of fluorescent milk.