East Side Story



Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    MDNA Games

Released:  September 2007

PC Requirements:   Win 98, 2000, XP, Vista, Pentium 1000 or higher, 128 MB RAM, 8 MB video card, 800 MB free hard drive space.




by Becky


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 especially creepy. 

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 here.

October 2007

design copyright © 2007 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index