Shady Brook opens to the clipped, husky tones of
Anthony Clave, as he paces restlessly through his house. He is
dictating into a tape recorder -- and his words are meant for you.
“This town is not safe,” he says. He knows that events will soon
overtake him and that he won’t outlive the night. “But it is not too
late for you,” he says. You see shadowy figures gathering at his
doorstep. “They’ve found me.”
As Jake Tobin, writer of novels, you come to Shady Brook from the
big city, bringing your father with you. You are hoping to live for
years in this quiet, friendly town nestled between the mountains.
Here it is -- a place of peace to continue writing your novel and to
spend time with your father, who is in poor health.
You meet just about everyone in Shady Brook within the first few
hours. (Yes, this is a small town.) And there are
some oddities – nobody knows what happened to the previous occupant
of the house you just bought. Did he simply disappear? You learn
that his daughters were killed shortly before his disappearance.
You find a picture of them with the glass smashed. Odd.
Further oddities surface. For such a small town, there is a huge
city hall. And a large beautiful church. There’s obviously money
here, but none of the town occupants work outside the town, and the
only customers they consistently service are themselves. How do
they subsist, even flourish?
The characters in Shady Brook are a quirky lot. There’s a
handsome, buff doctor who isn’t married; a sinister sheriff who
doesn’t bother to be polite. There’s a runaway kid who putters
among the headstones for twenty dollars a day, and a postal clerk
who works 9 to 5 examining her nails. A fun-loving bar owner, a
barber who’s a blatant sensualist, a laundress who always dresses in
evening wear, a spunky grandmotherly type who runs the local diner,
and a beautiful clerk at the general store with a baby in her arms.
Then there’s Ethan Morrow. Morrow is unlike any religious leader
I have ever met. He wears his arrogance like a badge of honor.
“How may I enlighten you?” he says, after greeting Jake for the
first time. He seems reluctant to admit that his church is a
church. Right from the beginning, you get the sense that Ethan
Morrow’s brand of religion is going to be, well, really odd. And he
seems to know everything – almost to read people’s minds with
supernatural clarity. Let’s face it, Morrow is extraordinarily
Shady Brook starts out as a story-driven mystery game. It
doesn’t quite end that way though.
I first chose to play Shady Brook in “Censored” mode. I also
chose “Adventure-Only” mode which eliminated some of the timed
aspects of the game and made me a sure winner in any fistfights I
cared to engage in.
I like the idea of making a game friendly to various types of
gamers – I’d like to see this more often. In Shady Brook, I think
the “Censored” version is the better game.
Blocky Mountain High
Although the town of Shady Brook reminded me of places I’ve been
in the Rockies, the characters’ accents as they speak narrow the
game’s location to a mountain range somewhere in the southern part
of the US. The environment as a whole rings true to me, though
usually in these little towns more of the houses would be
dilapidated. The broken-down car in front of one of them adds an
air of authenticity.
In outdoor scenes, the graphics in Shady Brook are serviceable,
though not spectacular. The mountains themselves are blocky, and
the textures on the ground are strange. There are some outdoor
views that are quite beautiful though – the scene from atop the
Thompson Memorial comes to mind. The game takes place over five
days, and you will see the environments in daylight, sunset, and at
night. I liked this – it adds a nice sense of pacing to the game.
Indoor environments are attractive, though there isn’t a great
deal to examine as you explore, as few things indoors are clickable.
Character animation varies in quality – for instance, when the
characters walk, they appear to slide over the ground as though it
is slippery. Cutscenes are well-done, though movement in them is
sometimes jerky. Facial animations are very good, especially for a
game put together by such a small development team. It seemed to me
that the emphasis in the game on story and characterizations caused
the bulk of the graphical effort to be placed in animating the
characters as they interact with one another. Given the constraints
of producing an Independent game, it appears that, rather than
creating a highly detailed, interactive setting, the setting was
used more as a backdrop for the story. What is happening between
the characters is clearly at center stage.
Voice acting in Shady Brook is uniformly excellent. (Full
Disclosure – some of the voice actors in the game are long-time
members of GameBoomers.) The only voice that took some getting used
to for me was the voice of the game’s protagonist, Jake. He is
quite soft-spoken, which at first didn’t seem to jive with his
persistence, energy and talent with his fists. After awhile,
though, as I got to know him, I thought the voice did suit
the character’s sensitivity and quiet strength.
The Case of the Disappearing Store Clerk
When I first set out to play Shady Brook, I experienced serious
glitches. Every time there was a conversation with one of the
characters, the game would slow down considerably, the DVD drive
light would go on, and the character(s) I was talking to would
flicker on and off the screen. In a couple of places, dialog
choices led to nothing but a black empty screen without sound.
I was able to play the game for awhile despite the glitches,
until I became seriously stuck. A peek at the game guide indicated
that I was supposed to give an inventory item to the store clerk –
problematic, since the store clerk had disappeared, without leaving
even an indication that a hotspot was supposed to be there.
At this point I decided that, without a patch or some kind of
fix, I couldn’t continue. I transferred files from the DVD drive to
the hard drive. Thereafter the game played smoothly and without
serious glitches. The difference was so dramatic that I thought I
was playing an entirely different game. A few visual glitches
remained after the fix – the characters sometimes flicker briefly
during dialog or scene transitions, and occasionally there are faint
white outlines around objects in the environment.
Getting to the Bottom of Things
Shady Brook does a good job of drawing the gamer into the
mysterious events taking place within town limits. My curiosity was
piqued early on, and became more rapacious as the game progressed.
By the end I was ready to throw aside everything in my quest to see
what was going on in this weird little town.
The only thing that was a drag on my thirst to solve the mystery
was the amount of sheer walking around I had to do in the game.
It’s necessary to visit some of the locations several times and
converse with the characters over and over. When I was stuck, of
course, I did even more walking around than was necessary. There is
a notebook that gives you game objectives and provides a gentle
shove onto the right path. But some of these objectives are vague
(exactly what must one do to “settle in” for instance?). There are
a couple of places where you overhear conversations with no
indication that anyone is there to be overheard – you happen upon
these as you walk endlessly around trying to trigger something that
will make the game progress.
Puzzle challenges are varied, and mostly a lot of fun. I enjoyed
the puzzle box very much, though the final step completely stumped
me. I loved the coded message puzzle and the final multi-stepped
challenge in the sheriff’s office. My true nemesis in terms of
challenges was… the slider. There is a cheat to bypass the slider,
which I learned about after I played through the game the first
time. On second playthrough I tried the cheat, and was unable to
get it to work. I finally got the cheat to work after checking back
on the slider one last time – it works, but it’s finicky.
From Horror to Horror
As the story unfolded in Shady Brook, I began to realize that
this was more than just a mystery game. Yes, there were eerie
things about this shady town, but implications of the goings-on
didn’t “settle in” until I was deep in the game and realized that it
was veering into sheer horror. Somehow, because I wasn’t prepared
(nobody rattled chains, or otherwise prepared me to be terrified),
the shock of events at game’s end really shook me up. I found that
the level of detail in the “Censored” mode was more than enough to
send shivers of fear and loathing down my spine. Even on “Censored”
mode, this is definitely not a game for children or for those with
I replayed Shady Brook in “Uncensored” mode and I felt that the
additional nudity and the even more graphic depictions of events
near the end actually detracted from the game. In “Censored” mode,
with these scenes missing, the game’s story overall was more
balanced. In a game that explored the difficult concept that heroes
aren’t always heroic, and that religion can be exploited to excuse
evil, the additional gut-wrenching material threatened to overwhelm
the game’s redemptive theme. I think that leaving some things up to
the gamer’s imagination was ultimately more effective.
Sometimes less really is more.
The ending in Shady Brook is fairly ambiguous. On “Censored”
mode, I was certain that the ending was redemptive. Replaying on
“Uncensored” mode, I was no longer so sure. This brings up the
question – is “Censored” versus “Uncensored” merely leaving certain
things out? Or is “Censored” versus “Uncensored” (at least in a
game like Shady Brook) an exploration of alternate realities? If
so, hand me my rose-colored glasses – I choose to live in a world
where courage and self-sacrifice are rewarded.
Quick List for Shady Brook
A first person point-and-click mystery game with elements of
horror. Intriguing story, interesting characters. Varied game
challenges including inventory challenges. No mazes, no sound
one color discrimination puzzle, one slider. Failure at
certain challenges puts you right back at the beginning of the
Unlimited saves. Some serious glitches, apparently due to an
incompatibility problem with my DVD drive, requiring a fix to make
the game playable. Shady Brook contains a “Censored” mode that
partly eliminates nudity and other graphically intense scenes, and
an “Adventure-Only” mode that eliminates timed challenges and makes
you a sure winner at the fistfighting. Even in “Censored” mode the
game is clearly not a game for children.
Shady Brook is aimed at gamers who like mature, complex,
story-driven games with surprise endings.
Shady Brook is an Independent publication of Unimatrix Productions.
You can purchase the game
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