Shady Brook


Genre:   Adventure

Developer:    Christopher Brendel

Publisher:    Unimatrix productions

Released:  2005

PC Requirements:   PC or compatible computer, Pentium III CPU, Windows 98/2000/XP, 516 MB RAM, 350 MB Hard Drive space, 640x480 resolution, 24-Bit Color display, DVD-ROM drive, and a Windows-compatible sound card and mouse





by Becky


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.” 

Our Town

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 creepy.

Shady Brook starts out as a story-driven mystery game.  It doesn’t quite end that way though. 

Rose-Colored Glasses

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 tender sensibilities. 

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 puzzles, one color discrimination puzzle, one slider.  Failure at certain challenges puts you right back at the beginning of the challenge.

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 here.


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