In short: you’re a groom working for the wealthy Lord Bellwater who has recently died at about the same time as your beloved Elsie. Deciding there’s more to the matter than meets the eye, you set off to discover the truth.
Lord Bellwater’s Secret is a two room game, but 99% of the action takes place in one room, Lord Bellwater’s study, the location your poor Elsie fell to her death from. In here you have to discover whether her death was an accident or something decidedly more sinister and, while you’re at it, find out a few things about Lord Bellwater’s will and just who he left his sizeable fortune to. This is actually quite an easy thing to do as Lord Bellwater (clever chap!) seems to have neatly laid out everything you need to solve the mystery around his study, often in very noticeable locations and, sure enough, it’s hard to look anywhere without having a clue shoved in your face. Kind of surprising that no one thought to hide any of this stuff.
There are a few clichés at work: a safe behind a painting (okay, I’ve used that one myself but even so), the instructions on how to open the safe conveniently close to hand… even the identity of Elsie’s killer is a cliché, though I won’t spoil it for you and say who it is. (Then again, as you never actually meet the killer, or anyone else for that matter, and have no idea he even exists until you find the letter confirming his guilt, it’s doubtful telling you who it was would make much of a difference.) One of the problems I always find with one room games (or two room games where the majority of the interaction takes place in one room), is that everything required to solve every puzzle or overcome every obstacle has to be very close to hand. If, for example, you need to open a locked door, you know the key is going to be here and it’s just a case of finding it. Admittedly this is the case in most IF games – the solution to every puzzle in the game has to be reasonably close – but in one room games it’s always a bit of a stretch that the necessary item you need just so happens to be within touching distance.
The game comes with a walkthrough supplied which I’m usually pleased about – not being particularly good at solving puzzles and having a tendency to quit if I become stuck (and especially because with 29 games to get through in such a short period of time, you don’t really have time to spend ages trying to solve every puzzle) – but this one was… odd. It listed commands which made no sense to me and others that I’m sure I could never be expected to figure out on my own. Why would I think to look up Ivanhoe in the bookshelves? Was there a clue about it somewhere that I missed? For that matter, why does the walkthrough have me look up Ivanhoe? As far as I could tell, it had no relevance to the game. But this last point is reflected throughout a lot of the walkthrough. Later on it has me checking up dates in a pocketbook. First it lists the European dates, then switches to American (which produces an error message), then goes back to European. Confused? You bet. I couldn’t decide if the walkthrough was the author’s idea of a joke at the player’s expense or if he’d just typed down things randomly during testing and not thought to get rid of them afterwards.
I had a few misgivings about the game – way too easy, seen it all before, some oddities with the walkthrough – but overall it wasn’t a bad way to spend an hour. Saying that, I was a bit disappointed that the aim of the game as stated to begin with – finding out what happened to Elsie – seemed to be sidelined and the less interesting discover-the-truth-about-Lord-Bellwater’s-will took precedence. Given the choice between solving a murder mystery or some legal stuff about wills, I know which one I’d have sooner had the game focus upon.
6 out of 10