Recidivism isn’t a character flaw to you, it’s a matter of pride. No sense in honing those burglar skill just to let them go to waste because some judge put you behind bars for a half year, right? Out of jail, back in the saddle, that’s you. Or rather, back in the driver’s seat of this car you just nicked on the way to Wychwood Manor. Your cellmate couldn’t shut up about the stash of old loot that’s still hidden there. It helped that he was talking in his sleep.
The elaborate introduction puts you squarely in the boots of this criminal protagonist and lends a welcome frame to this manor search. In the rest of the game, the descriptions are sparse but adequate. Many small details serve to strengthen the mood of the abandoned estate, and of course to distract the player and lure her into wasting time.
Yes, because time is of the essence! Although you arrived early in the morning, some nosy passerby or binocular-carrying neighbour is bound to call the coppers on you before long.
The map of the manor and the surrounding estate and farmer’s fields is splendid. With sparse descriptions, the game still succeeds in evoking a wide countryside feel. A few hidden areas and locked rooms add the satisfaction of discovery to the exploration.
The final area especially, the fields behind the manor, is a joy to wander through and waste moves as you try to find out where to investigate next.
As is to be expected, one of the biggest obstacles of the game (for a spoiled player with more modern sensitivities like myself especially) is getting your intentions across in two-word commands. EXAMINE (not X) works on a small but important fraction of the items in the descriptions, USE is necessary in some instances, and of course you can forget about UNDO.
Once you get a feel for what works, the puzzles are actually fun and challenging. Some neat seemingly straightforward problems that require one extra unexpected step. Including the oldest one in the book…
Good old-school fun in and around an abandoned country manor.
I really like Geoffrey Larsen’s games. The evocation of the English countryside, with which he was clearly very familiar, interwoven with history and folklore made them really stand out amongst the more generic fantasy and sci-fi games of the era. Perhaps he grew up, like myself, watching children’s TV shows like Children of the Stones and The Owl Service, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d read Alan Garner and Susan Cooper too. Contemporary interests in Hauntology and Psychogeography suggest the time is ripe to reexamine his work. Wychwood, despite the title, is the only one that doesn’t contain a supernatural element, but it still uses landscape very effectively to create atmosphere.
I wonder what happened to Larsen? I’d be fascinated to know if he’s still out there and could perhaps be persuaded to return to the IF scene!
Hi is still out there. I was holding off contacting him, because someone in the BBC community was in the process of talking to him at the time, but nothing seems to have come from that so I’ll try and make contact. Not all of his BBC adventures got ZX Spectrum conversions, so I was toying with the idea of looking at those. The games are interesting, for sure, but you need to see the cover artwork, I think, to get the true uniqueness of the Larsen experience.