1. Scratches



    Genre:   Adventure

    Type: Psychological Horror

    Developer:     Nucleosys

    Publisher:    Got Game

    Released:  March 2006

    PC Requirements:   See end of review



    Additional screenshots




  5. …a review by Inferno


    “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”Y

    Scratches: the word alone makes me uneasy.  It brings to mind a nagging irritation that one knows all too soon will need to be dealt with, lest it should fester, grow, evolve into something worse. Agustin Cordes and Alejandro Graziani, along with their development group “Nucleosys,” have taken this idea into the realm of adventure gaming. Their new game, Scratches, published in the United States by Got Game Entertainment is due to slither its way onto store shelves in early March, infecting and consuming adventure gamers everywhere. Is the game worth the long wait? Does it hold up to what’s out there now?  We shall see….

    Even the loading screen, a colorless graphic of a decrepit house and eerie sound effects, set the tone for what is to come. The opening scenes of disjointed photos hung in a darkroom all-askew, the melancholy tune as though it were emanating from an old Victrola. All this, encompassed within the view of a sepia toned rough cut 16mm film, sets the stage for the mystery yet to unfold. The screen fades to black, and then John Bell’s deeply polished voice narrates the opening soliloquy for this new point-and-click adventure, alone without benefit of visuals as though the character was deep in thought, recalling to mind some traumatic event from a recent memory. We are swept up into the past as the first cutscene fades up. The tense and slightly off-kilter musical underscore sets the tone for apprehension against the sinister backdrop of the sprawling English Manor House and its grounds. We watch the movement of an old automobile trolling along the fog laden drive through the wooded underbrush toward Blackwood Manor.  The camera pulls away to a “virtual” crane or overhead shot of the rural landscape. The morning sun is still too weak to fight its way through the impenetrable miasma below. Yet the house is there, ever present and all knowing of the events of its past and the menacing probabilities of its future.

    As Hill House was to Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, so too, Blackwood Manor rears its menacing tower and gables through the murky gloom in defiance of the rising sun. The auto slowly makes its way to the spiked iron gates of its appointed destination and we are reminded of the 1963 motion picture version of The Haunting where Lenore Vance arrives at the gates of Hill House in a curiously similar dilapidated auto. The final shot of this cutscene in Scratches actually took my breath away, as the camera angle is a perfect “long shot” from behind the roof of the car, through the opened gates to the house. This is representative of what is yet to come…. The protagonist enters, inveigled by misrepresentation, to cure the evil within.

    At the end of the cutscene the gamer views his first full glimpse of the Manor dead-on, and we immediately realize a few things: that we have been projected into the past; that we will view everything from the eyes of the narrator, who is a writer (“have typewriter; will travel”); and that we are in possession of the key to Blackwood Manor provided by someone named Jerry.  The rest of the story is ours to figure out. Now, if you are wise (as I know all of you are) you’ll take the time to read the accompanying manual, which holds more of the back story, including a small personality study for all characters past and present.

    Those of you who know me, also know how I approach adventures such as Scratches. I feel that setting the mood and how one prepares oneself for gameplay is just as important as the piece itself; for what you bring to interactive entertainment will color your experience. So, a clean pad and litepen at my left, and sustenance to my right (for most horror games I usually choose a nice merlot along with a plate of seedless grapes, some slices of apple laced with lemon juice and a few wedges of Camembert and Brie), and stereo headphones aide me in my preparation for an evening of horrific delights. I light a few pillar candles as I wait for sunset and the darkness to fall. It is only with this stage set that I can put myself into the right frame of mind to begin my journey.


    “It was an evil house from the beginning

    -          a house that was born bad”Y

    The Story

    In 1963 the owner of Blackwood Manor, one James Blackwood, allegedly murdered his wife Catherine in a seeming fit of insanity. Not too long afterward he succumbed to a heart attack, although it is said that it may very well have been a suicide. For some odd reason, the authorities have allowed the case to go cold and then closed the files. The property was then passed into the hands of the couple’s dear friend, Dr. Christopher Milton, sometime during 1964. Not very much is known about poor Dr. Milton, but he has been spoken of in the locals’ covert whisperings as “one who likes his drink far too much for his own good.” By 1970, Dr. Milton mysteriously vanishes, leaving the Manor abandoned, and it is subsequently taken over by The National Trust.

    Enter a new murder/mystery author, one Michael Arthate, who purchases Blackwood Manor and its grounds via his friend and real estate agent, Jerry Carter -- obsequiously played by none other than Jonathan Boakes of Dark Fall fame. The year is now 1976 and Michael has arrived at Blackwood Manor to take possession of his prize: a Victorian Manor House replete with rolling landscapes and fog drenched hills to wander through, while contemplating intricate plot expositions for the mystery thrillers he hopes to write. 

    Throughout the game, Michael’s thoughts are revealed through text at the bottom of the screen – a silently spoken running monologue as though we, the gamers, are part of his mind. Knowing Michael (I now feel free to say this after playing the game through many times) and his complete and utter exuberance in realizing the potential stories that the abandoned Greenhouse, the Stone Chapel and the ancient Crypt, not to mention the Manor House might hold for him to bring to life through the written word…what was the saying? “Be careful what you wish for... it may very well come true.y This is also known in “Classical Drama” as hubris. And there is much of that in Scratches.  

    Blackwood Manor holds many secrets. Who were James and Catherine Blackwood?  Why the excessive fascination for the artifacts that James collected? Who were the Dhalmaar? What really happened to The Blackwood family all those years ago?  Why did a seemingly empty house hold such a sinister malevolent atmosphere?  And, for pity’s sake…what the heck are those strange noises emanating from somewhere below?   

    As the game unfolds, the tale bends and twists as only true psychological horror can. There was a constant feeling of malaise as I wandered (and sometimes tried to run) through the game’s environments. An ever-present feeling of solitude (at times the silence became quite deafening) occasionally gave way to a single-minded yearning to discover the mystery surrounding the Manor. Psychological effects --  particularly the use of “overhang” and “tunnel vision” -- served to evoke a feeling of dread and claustrophobia during certain key scenes. Absolutely scrumptious.    


    “Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move

    until you look away and then you just...

    catch something out of the corner of your eye?”Y


    The Art Work:

                When the scenes of the adventure shifted to outside the Manor house, I swear I could feel a chill around my shoulders and the cold damp against my brow. Alejandro Graziani’s work does more than just articulate points of reference for the gamer to interact with, more than just pleasant realistic worlds for us to view. Indeed, I found his talents lie in the ability to breathe life into his pre-rendered graphics -- a life quite realistic though ever so slightly skewed. The palette of the game itself is overcast and muted with the colder colors of the spectrum, denoting pain and bitterness, sorrow and wistful recantation; a reflection of the inner psyches of those now dead. The delicate intricacies and textures of the Manor house and its contents all meld together in perfect discord, and sagaciously put the gamer on edge. It’s little wonder that as we move from room to room and floor to floor we purposefully turn the camera’s view around, fully expecting to catch a glimpse of something watching us in the shadows…just out of our peripheral vision – though nothing is there. It is this haunting atmosphere that adds to and heightens apprehension…in the night…in the dark….       


    “Can't you feel it? It's alive... watching.”Y

    The Sounds

               The underscore written and performed by Cellar of Rats for Scratches does much to add to the mysterious ambiance and dark fabric of the game -- and works well with the somber palette. These musical interpretations of emotion color the story with forlorn and muted tones.  Have you ever been able to feel fear or terror through music and movement?  Agustin Cordes and his talented team show us how. There was a point in time where I thought I was going to fall off the rain drenched roof of the Manor... here the music allows the gamer to "feel" the action, a sort of musical adrenalin rush.  Excruciatingly delicious.

                The voice acting for the two major characters in Scratches is worthy of note. The voice of Michael Arthate, deftly played by John Bell, holds a certain refreshing effervescence, and gives the character an obsessive quality; Michael is portrayed as someone compelled to uncover the mystery at Blackwood Manor at any cost. Jonathan Boakes as Michael’s friend Jerry Carter “the voice of reason” is a perfect foil as the supportive character.

               Oddly enough, though there are many obvious scares throughout the adventure; there was one subtle moment, which caught me truly unawares. I’m speaking of the innocuous music box scene, in which a seemingly harmless childhood plaything is wound with a key. It then plays a simple bittersweet melody that slowly changes key and twists itself into something dark and macabre. It stayed with me long after into the night and still haunts my dreams. Thanks, Agustin, and my analyst thanks you as well. 

               The closing theme for Scratches’ credits, written by Daniel Cordes, I found to be melancholic and poignant, with a feeling of finality about it. Is it a refection of Michael’s own fears and self-doubt about his unfinished novel? Or is it mirroring the inside of the abandoned Manor...the forgotten lives echoing through these walls and disturbing the various trappings, now empty and without comfort of human touch?  


    “Well why not? The world is full of inconsistencies.

    Full of unnatural beings, nature's mistakes they call you for instance!”Y



    The game itself takes place over a span of a short weekend and is divided into three days. There is Michaels’s Saturday morning arrival followed by the typical problems one faces when one purchases a “white elephant.” The water is turned off and there are rusted pipes. There is no electricity either – and a proposed electrician (provided by Michael’s friend Jerry Carter) seems quite elusive. There are a few “time wasting” puzzle tasks such as candle hunting, which culminates in a dead battery. This spans blithely throughout the first third of the game. Soon, isolation sets in -- along with tidbits of information about the previous owners. Curiosity gets the better of Michael -- he begins to delve deeper and deeper into the dark secrets of his newly acquired abode.    

                Now, while I have no intention of giving away any actual tidbits of the game itself, I will tell you that of the many clocks within the adventure, the one to gauge your watch by is the grandfather clock in the main hall—it’s the only working timepiece. I found the game to be primarily nonlinear. However, there are certain tasks you must accomplish during each of the three days, so I would check the clock in the hall to gauge your progress. If there is something that you can't do that day, Jerry will let you know via the antique phone in the hall. But remember this: it is the choices that you make as Michael that will color the outcome of this adventure, so I advise you to open your mind and pay attention to everything.   

               I played Scratches multiple times -- my shortest playing time was six hours and longest was sixteen. You may play the game in one of two modes: 360-degree panning mode or slideshow.  I suggest that you use the 360-degree panning mode for the full horror effect. The 360-degree swinging to and fro kept me slightly off balance throughout the game -- great for total immersion. The slide show works well but doesn't offer the right  "edge" (or lack of it, shall we say). If one is entering into the world of HP Lovecraft -- or Shirley Jackson -- or Agustin Cordes -- then I say, take full advantage of its style and panache while you can.

    Most of the puzzles appear so naturally within the parameters of the game world that they were over and completed before I realized that they were puzzles to begin with.  Lovely. The inventory is very basic.  If an item is usable then a “hand “ icon will appear and the item will automatically go into your inventory. Right click to access it and right click again to close. Combinations can be made within the inventory as well. Various items will become highlighted if they are usable, whether it's the right item or not. Remember that this is a game involving step-by-step logical deduction.  You don’t bounce from one obvious puzzle to the next. Things here do go bump in the night but it's all very subtle...you get ensnared into a conundrum quite before you realize it.... like quicksand it ensnares you, and draws you downward to where the answer lies.


    “I don't stay after dinner. Not after it begins to get dark.

    We live in town, nine miles, so there won't be anyone around if you need help.

     We couldn't even hear you…no one could.

     No one lives any nearer than town…no one will come any nearer than that.
    …in the night….in the dark.”Y



              As to the question of Easter Eggs. Yes, I believe that there are many.  I found at least a dozen references to various adventure games and game developers within the horror genre, as well as many allusions to authors and movies; some were text references and others were visual – mostly occurring in the beautiful artwork hung inside the mansion. One (because I used a certain inventory object on a certain object in a certain place) resulted in a comment from Michael which was so hysterical – I spilled my merlot all over my keyboard…thank heavens I always keep a spare! And then there are other references in a pictorial form for classic horror adventures such as Shivers, and something a bit more tangible for Amber in the garage...and in a section of the basement…or maybe it was just my overactive imagination that made the connection. Only Agustin and Alejandro can really say for sure. 

             As you get to know the character of Michael, you have to allow yourself to think as he does -- as a mystery writer thinks. The clues are all there if you know where to look for them. This is a game whose story will cause you to think and ponder, similar to a good game of chess. Add an exquisite underscore, unnerving sound effects by Cellar of Rats, hauntingly lyrical pre-rendered backdrops by Alejandro Graziani, and reasonably logical puzzles that sneak up on you,  and we have the makings of a true horror classic  -- one to be cherished for years to come.

              Would I recommend this game to my fellow gamers? Absolutely. Will I play it again? You bet, for although I have no concrete information to confirm this, I feel that there is an alternative ending to Scratches and hope to find it one day. If not…I am content to wander through the strange halls of Blackwood Manor searching for the answer and remembering that “we who walk there …walk alone.”  


    Grade: A+


    Minimum system requirements:

    · 800 MHz CPU

    · 128 MB RAM

    · 16 MB OpenGL-compatible video card

    · 24x CD-ROM drive

    · Sound card


    Recommended system requirements:

    · 1.6 GHz CPU

    · 256 MB RAM

    · 32 MB OpenGL-compatible video card

    · 24x CD-ROM drive

    · 5.1 surround sound card

    · 450 MB free hard drive space.

    Played on:

    Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition 2002 w/SP 1 

    Pentium 4 CPU 2.00GHz 

    512MB DDR Memory


    Video: 64MBNVIDIA GeForce 2 MX/MX 400 AGPDriver version: 6.14.0010.7801

    Sound: Creative SB Live

    Quotes: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

    The Red Shoes: by Hans Christian Anderson

    Y Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House - preface

    Y Shirley Jackson –The Haunting of Hill House - Dr. John Markway

    y Hans Christian Anderson – The Red Shoes – The Shoemaker 

    Y Shirley Jackson –The Haunting of Hill House – Theodora

    Y Shirley Jackson –The Haunting of Hill House - Eleanor Lance

    Y Shirley Jackson –The Haunting of Hill House - Eleanor Lance

    Y Shirley Jackson –The Haunting of Hill House –Mrs. Dudley



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