Up front, in case you didn’t know, this is not a Tex
Murphy game. However there were similarities, not least of all the same
voice actor (who is also one of the makers) in the role of a private
detective. In many ways though, it couldn’t be more different.
To me, it was ultimately a mixed blessing. Its
strengths – the script, the acting, the music – were very strong indeed.
Other things – predominantly its casual and repetitive nature – were heavy
weaknesses that almost dragged it under.
Big Finish Games commits itself on its website to
provide the very best story driven games. On the story, they certainly
deliver. It blends mystery and mysticism, and hums along, each little
snippet almost teasing you with what lies ahead. It twists and turns, and
certainly surprised me now and then. I wanted to know what happened, which
is the mark of a pretty good yarn.
It is also interestingly delivered. Jess Silloway is
in a dark place, with no recollection of the events that led her to be
there. A man with a deck of tarot cards says he can help. As the cards are
chosen, memories are triggered, and the story starts to unfold.
There are seven chapters, plus an introduction and a
finale. In each of the chapters, the three available tarot cards can be
chosen in any order. Although each
unlocks a specific memory, the script is such that, although it doesn’t
always fit together perfectly, it doesn’t depend on a certain order to
make sense. Certainly you might learn something that is not altogether
clear, or which seems to assume some knowledge. But by the end of the
chapter the pieces will fit together, if not yet into a complete picture.
The tarot cards are nicely linked to the memories or
flashbacks, and at the end of each chapter you can read a story summary,
review the cards used and what they represent, and replay any of the
flashbacks. Completing one chapter unlocks the next, and once completed,
the chapter remains open to you to review should you wish or need to do
so. This ensures that every player should comfortably be following the
plot, however they might have caused it to be revealed, and builds a rich
and many-layered tapestry.
It is also very well voiced, with Jess and Merryman
(the private investigator) being standouts, and the musical score is just
right when it comes to setting the mood and atmosphere of what is
occurring. Put all that together, and the website promise is admirably
The website further states that you can expect
intelligent, fun and meaningful game play that blends seamlessly into the
story. I have already mentioned how the cards are linked to the memories,
and they are further intertwined with a specific location. Each triggers
in Jess two or three key words that are then used in that location to
unlock the particular and related memory. A specific puzzle will also
likely result during the chapter, one that is further related to an aspect
of the unfolding story. A box may be discovered; working out how to unlock
it might reveal an object of some significance. Whilst it might not be
seamless as claimed, its fair to say that both the key words and the
puzzles are embedded intelligently into the storyline.
However the fun factor started to leave me at about
Chapter 3 and by Chapter 5 it was only the story that was keeping me
The key words are used in conjunction with a single
screen of a particular location. My recollection is that they are all
inside locations, be it a room in a building, a boat cabin or a car. In
that location are numerous objects, some of which link to the key words.
Say the key word was cookie – you might find a girl scout and a monster,
to give you girl scout cookie and cookie monster. Each location will tell
you how many of these “front” and “back” words you have to find to move
on. This will be a product of the difficulty level you chose for the game.
The higher the level, the more linked objects you have to find.
As the game interface screen says, it’s like a
hidden object game, albeit through word association. Some associations are
obvious, others require a little lateral thinking to determine.
You can get a certain number of clues in each
location, again a factor of the difficulty level, and you are allowed a
certain number of misses before you have to start the search over. The
objective is to find the necessary number of objects for each of the key
words in that location (generally three, but anywhere from one to four).
As each chapter has three cards, each representing a
location, and each location usually has three key words, you get to play
this word association game about 60 or 70 times. Which for me was about 55
times too many.
You also get to solve about a dozen stand-alone
puzzles. Some were rather good, others not nearly so good. Spot the
difference in two pictures and reassemble a torn newspaper were examples
of the latter. None were terribly hard, and you can choose to skip any
puzzle you like (although you won’t see the solve).
That’s it for “adventuring.” A multitude of word
associations, and some one-dimensional puzzles. Casual gaming writ large
in my opinion, and the biggest drawback of the experience.
Skipping puzzles, along with getting clues, affects
your “card rating” for that particular tarot card. The end game requires
you to choose two cards, and their rating will determine their
effectiveness in the finale. There are multiple endings, and your choice
of cards and their strength will be a factor in which ending you get.
Somewhat oddly, especially given the plethora of
information that you can review at most times, I couldn’t find a way to
reveal a different ending without playing the whole game over. You can
replay a chapter, but I couldn’t find a way to pick different cards in the
finale. I was happy with the ending I got, but would have liked to have
tried to see the rest.
It’s a first person perspective, and everything is
done by pointing and clicking. Flashbacks are little animated cutscenes,
which play in a very small part of a smallish game window to begin with.
Why they are so small, I don’t know. Each is preceded by a reflection from
The detail in each of the locations is rather good,
although some objects are very small, and sometimes difficult to recognise
(pen, pin, pencil??). The short look at the outside of each location that
you get before entering I liked a lot -- predominantly black-and-white
drawings, punctuated by little bits of movement of colour. It helped
develop the mood of the piece, especially in particular locations.
The game saves automatically when you exit and you
pick up where you left off. Different people can play by creating their
own identities, and then choosing an identity from the menu screen. You
can’t tweak settings and you don’t get subtitles.
There is more to come. So don’t expect everything
neatly resolved. 3 Cards to Dead Time is already in development.
If you like a well told story, and if you are a fan
of casual games, you will probably rate 3 Cards to Midnight more
highly than I did. I want far more from my game play than this offered,
although not much more from a story perspective. So a very mixed blessing
3 Cards to Midnight
can be purchased from the
developer’s website here.