I've just finished another Carol Reed adventure. I've
been dazzled by colorful, light-suffused images. I've explored the tragic
underbelly of the human soul. I've solved the kind of mystery that builds
slowly, with many interrelated clues. And I've snooped into Carol's
friendship with Jonas, the handsome gardener.
Carol is a young Englishwoman living in Norrköping, Sweden, a place
where old sins cast long shadows. Having stumbled into the role of private
detective in her first adventure (Remedy), our heroine is now a
professional gumshoe. In East Side Story, the fourth game in the
series, Carol investigates the murder of a local tramp.
Blue Skies From Now On
Obvious attention grabbers in the Carol Reed games are the unusual
graphics -- photographs altered to look like impressionist paintings.
These stylized environments were easy on the eye from the very first game
of the series, but the developers have now perfected the technique.
Each location starts out as a sepia tinted photograph. After a quick
fade-to-black transition, you discover yourself at the entrance to a
building, garden, street, or room, now in full color. Directional arrows
allow you to walk around, exploring from screen to screen.
Outdoor areas glow with warm light and reveal a profusion of gemlike
tones. Sometimes dabs of bright color melt into one another. Other times
the forms are sharp and distinct. This design allows the gamer to observe
brilliant effects of light and shadow, and can also be used to draw
attention to important parts of the landscape. One favorite place: a park
where a tiled wall, apartment building, and railing create a complex grid
of shapes and textures. One disappointment: not getting close enough to
smell the roses in Arken's Rosearium.
Carol's East Side ramblings take her literally to the other side of the
tracks -- to hideouts and ruins that are crumbling, dilapidated. These
parts of the game have an edgy, postmodern quality. One location -- a
graffiti-embellished culvert explored partly by flashlight -- is
The Air is Humming
Audio content is always important in the Carol Reed games. Ambient
sounds are clearer in East Side Story than in previous games and
have more depth and variety. The background music consists of synthesized
sounds with unusual rhythms and reverberations. Sometimes the mood is
ominous, at other times the music has a wistful, even mystical quality.
Voiceovers for the minor characters are another improvement, with more
expressiveness in the voices. Most of the characters have pleasing
Swedish accents. Carol, voiced by Sara Louise Williams, has a soothing
British accent. Dialogues are brief and to the point. The characters are
shown in still photographs, and assume different poses as they speak. I
was amused to see actors from the previous games showing up here in
different roles, and got a chuckle from my conversation with the tattooed
janitor. Unfortunately, the new characters don't have the same inspired
dottiness I have come to expect in these games.
Lies a Body, Oozin' Life
The solution to East Side Story's murder mystery is woven into
the gameplay, as each major puzzle solution brings more information about
the characters, their struggles and motivations. The bulk of the puzzles
are inventory related, and mesh well with the story. The gamer will also
encounter a few code breaking puzzles, an easy challenge that requires
targeting an object and some hotspot searches in unorthodox places. Carol
is in danger at certain times, adding dramatic tension. One timed
sequence near game's end suits the plot, but took me several attempts to
beat (failure puts you back at the right moment to try again). The puzzle
mix is balanced and avoids frustratingly difficult challenges.
Two quibbles: in a game with exotic and unusual environments, it seems
strange that many of the inventory items are... well... rather humdrum.
It makes sense in the game to find and use these particular items. Still,
Carol puts in a lot of sleuthing just to find things she could have
purchased at the local hardware store. The second issue: sometimes items
don't become "hot" and directional arrows don't appear the first time you
visit a location. The gamer may not be able to pick up an item or explore
a pathway until something happens elsewhere or a certain "trigger" is
activated. I've noted this before in nonlinear games like East Side
Story. It's possible that there's no way around this gameplay issue.
Late-triggering hotspots probably prevent the gamer from finding
information and items before they make sense in the story. Just be aware
that if you aren't making progress, you may need to go back and carefully
re-search locations you've already explored.
With a Click
East Side Story is told from the first person perspective and
uses a point-and-click interface without 360 degree panning. Movement is
smooth. The cursor becomes a hand icon so that you can pick things up, a
gear icon when items can be used, and a magnifying glass for closer
inspection. Each location has an exit point that takes you to a map of
the city where you can click to visit other available locations. The
inventory is simple to use. Saves are unlimited and you can name them.
The game and its installation were glitch-free.
I'll be Seeing You in All the Old, Familiar Places
The Carol Reed adventures have become a staple of my adventure gaming
life. Starting one of the games is like greeting an old friend, with the
same sense of welcome and exhilaration. Though not as ambitious as the
large commercial games, these adventures bring a relaxing escape into
another world, with aspects both familiar and new: familiar faces (even
some familiar adventure gaming names), the familiar melody that plays in
Carol's apartment, quirky new characters, a new mystery to solve, and new
places to explore.
I'm looking forward to Carol's next adventure. Let's hope that the
wait won't be long.
Used Cars - Whiskey - Land - Manure - Nails
First person point-and-click mystery adventure. Game Four in the Carol
Reed series, and the best so far, with a longer, more complex murder
mystery plot. The story is revealed gradually as clues are uncovered. You
don't have to play the previous games to enjoy this one.
Photographed environments in an impressionist style, layered with color
and sound. No cutscenes, no 360 degree panning. Efficient character
interaction, good voice work. You can't die.
Inventory puzzles, code breaking, hotspot hunting, one timed puzzle.
No sliders, one maze-like location, no sound puzzles, one color-based
puzzle. About twelve hours of gameplay.
No glitches or crashes. Unlimited save slots. After installation, you
don't need the disk in the CD drive.
East Side Story is aimed at gamers who enjoy luminous
environments, unusual characters, and an investigation that delves into
past history and human vulnerabilities.
Final Grade: B+
East Side Story is an Independent Production of MDNA games and
can be purchased from the MDNA website
design copyright ©