Emerald City Confidential



Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Wadjet Eye Games

Publisher:   PlayFirst Inc.

Released:  February 2009

PC Requirements:   Windows XP, 1.2GHz Pentium IV Processor, 256 MB RAM, 32MB 3D-accelerated 64MB video card, 90 MB hard drive space, 800x600 screen resolution





by Becky


What do you picture when you think of Oz? Munchkinland? Movin’ on down the yellow brick road? The Wicked Witch of the West as she melts -- or as she belts out Broadway show tunes? This is such a familiar place, with so many associations, that placing a game in Oz evokes nostalgia, poignancy and a dash of trepidation. Dave Gilbert, the creative mind behind Emerald City Confidential, clearly knows this and has taken advantage of it.

The game opens in the Emerald City Warehouse District, with a towering skyline as the background. Oz has changed since Dorothy Gale and the Wizard returned to Kansas in the MGM movie. Decades later, the actions taken by Dorothy and her gang of overachieving misfits have cast long shadows. Heroic deeds that were celebrated in the course of the original cinematic adventure are now haunting the people and the city of Oz.

Something Bad? Happening in Oz…?

You assume the role of Petra in this third person adventure. Petra is a hard-nosed detective striving to make a name for herself in the Emerald City. She carries past disappointments and traumatic memories of the loss of a younger brother. Petra gradually becomes entangled in the lives of many local residents when a “missing person” case walks in the door. As Petra tracks down her glamorous client’s friend, she learns more about the history of Oz and the backgrounds of its citizens (many of whom originally appeared in the novels by L. Frank Baum, though not in the movie version). She also finds curious hints about her brother’s disappearance many years before.

Black is this year’s Pink

Emerald City Confidential has clearly been influenced by the Film Noir detective genre. The dialog is slick, classy and unexpectedly funny. The characters are stylishly attired – femme fatale Betsy Bobbins has bobbed hair falling over one eye and a wide-brimmed hat with a coquettishly tilted brim. The Lion (now a lawyer) flaunts a tailored city suit and a cynical, gruff manner.

Voiceovers are excellent, including the satiric imitations of famous characters from the history of film. My only criticism of the voiceovers is that they tend to cut out about mid-sentence during many parts of the game. This becomes annoying after a while, and it is the only aspect of Emerald City Confidential that lacks professional polish.

So – What’s the most Swankified Place in town?

Graphics are hand drawn with an Art Deco aesthetic -- strong contour lines, jewel-like colors and lots of intricate patterns, including serpentine cast-iron motifs. Animations are a trifle stiff but definitely serviceable and fit the stylized surroundings. The Emerald City looks as though it was inspired by the black-and-white skyline in Fritz Lang’s classic movie “Metropolis,” then tinted bright green. The overall effect is one of exaggerated reality tinged with a sense of mystery – the odd combination of an innocent child’s fantasy world and a hardboiled Noir atmosphere.

Please – Somebody Go and Melt Her!

Oz is a magical place, and Petra will have to learn deal with the magic. She will also need to solve puzzles by using inventory items. Most of the challenges involve gaining information by talking to the various characters or observing the environments. The level of difficulty is definitely on the “Easy” side. This is a game that is perfect for an adventure game novice, as it uses a traditional point-and-click interface and contains an effective hint system and brief in-game tutorial. The puzzles become more challenging as the game progresses. However, if you are a “Puzzle Achiever” type of gamer, be forewarned that none of these puzzles is fiendishly difficult.

Emerald City Confidential contains an “extra” challenge that involves locating colored, sparkling buttons. This was nicely done and gave me a reason to look more closely at the environments. Collecting the buttons provided access to some concept art taken from the game’s planning stages.

Beneath the Scenes

This game contains an interactive map that allows you to move quickly between the various locations. You’ll find yourself doing a bit of back-and-forthing between locations, but always for plot-related reasons.

I encountered no glitches except for the voiceover glitch mentioned above.

An autosave function tracks your progress and records it each time you leave one area and enter another. This was not my favorite aspect of the game. I like to be able to save my game at various stages so I can return and re-examine the environments and listen to dialog again (this is particularly important in plot-heavy games). The only way to accomplish this with Emerald City Confidential is to replay the whole game.

Game length is substantial, though not of epic proportions; the game is a good value for the $19.95 price.

Quick List for Emerald City Confidential

A Noir detective mystery set in the Emerald City, years after Dorothy’s return to Kansas. Meet Petra, a new heroine with a likeably ambivalent personality. Colorful, cartoon-style graphics. Lots of character interaction and snappy dialog. A twisty plot with transformations and surprises.

Puzzles that require listening to the dialogs, using inventory items, and figuring out how to manage some Ozian magic. A good hint system. Puzzles fall in the “Easy” category. No sliders, no mazes, no sound-based puzzles, one puzzle requiring distinguishing colors, though this could also be solved by trial and error. No tricky timed puzzles.

No problems with installation. One sound glitch that cuts voiceovers off in mid-sentence. An auto-save system that is restrictive.

Emerald City Confidential is aimed at fans of the L. Frank Baum “Oz” novels, the “Wizard of Oz” movie, “The Wiz” and “Wicked.” It also has a lot to offer adventure gamers who appreciate stylish graphics and dashing dialog, and casual gamers who would like a first experience in the world of adventure games.

Final Grade: A-

Emerald City Confidential can be purchased via download at PlayFirst here.

Section headings are from the musical “Wicked” – lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2046 MB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio

March, 2009

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