Shady Brook is
the second game from independent developer Christopher M. Brendel.
To the best of my knowledge, it is the first independently produced
game to be issued on a DVDR rather than a CD or CDR. Those without
DVD or combo drives should take note of this before ordering the
game. There also seems to be a problem with old DVD drives from
around 1999, which apparently weren't designed to read DVDR discs.
character, Jake Tobin, is a writer who has decided to buy a house in
the small town of Shady Brook in the hope of gaining inspiration for
his new novel as well as spending more quality time with his aging
father. The townsfolk seem friendly at first, but the town of Shady
Brook holds an unpleasant secret. Over the course of the next few
days, Jake becomes convinced something is not right in Shady Brook.
Much, if not
most of the gameplay in Shady Brook involves having conversations
with other characters rather than solving puzzles. The game gives
you clues about where you should go next in the form of a "Things to
do" list that can be accessed through the inventory. As you
accomplish things that are on the list, the game alerts you to the
fact that you have fulfilled objectives and often provides you with
new objectives. The "Things to do" list helps ensure that you won't
get stuck with no idea of what you need to do next.
The rest of
this section includes descriptions of puzzles that might be
The puzzles in
Shady Brook were fun, though most were a little on the easy side.
There is a liquid measuring puzzle, a cryptogram, a puzzle that
involves setting mirrors, and a slider (which has a cheat to bypass
it in case you don't like sliders). You must discover where the
combinations for locks are kept and find a way to retrieve a stuck
object that initially can't be picked up. There is a box puzzle
similar to the trunk puzzle in Black Dahlia, only much much easier.
There are no complex or unintuitive inventory puzzles. You must
combine inventory in a couple of instances, but these are
combinations you would also make in real life. Often you have to
figure out which character you need to talk to or where you need to
go to cause the story to advance - which may be the most
time-consuming part of the game.
One portion of
the box puzzle involved recognizing colors. I don't know how
difficult this part would be for colorblind people. It would
probably depend on the level of colorblindness. If the puzzle proved
unsolvable, the answer is available in Len Green's puzzle
walkthrough for Shady Brook, which is posted at Gameboomers.
If you don't
choose "adventure only" mode, there are some puzzles (or
"challenges") that involve dexterity. A "pipes" puzzle with rotating
pieces has a fairly generous time limit. There is a minigame where
you play pool with one of the other characters. (I won this without
much trouble - not because I was any good at all but because my
opponent was even worse. I think I managed to get only one ball into
a pocket, but my opponent took so many penalties for hitting my
balls into pockets that this was not a problem.) There are two
instances where you have to have a fist fight with another
character. You control when your character punches with the right
and left mouse buttons. I found a good old one-two punch worked best
for me, though the game guide suggested a different strategy. The
"non-adventure only" puzzles are not terribly difficult and if you
fail you are automatically returned to the beginning of the sequence
to try again.
Shady Brook is
a first person point-and-click adventure game. The interface is
similar to the one in Lifestream and other games made using
AdventureMaker software. The default cursor is a white "+" sign. The
forward cursor is a large upward-pointing arrow. Sideways arrows
indicate that you can turn right or left, depending on which
direction they're pointing. In some areas, you'll see an arrow
pointing diagonally up or down, which will indicate a partial turn
or the option to go up or downstairs. A downward-pointing arrow
means you can back away from something or put away an inventory item
that you've been examining. A magnifying glass means you can zoom in
on an area. A bar with two triangles on either side of it and the
word "OPEN" underneath it indicates you can attempt to open
something. An icon resembling lips indicates you can talk to another
character. A grabbing hand icon means you can pick something up. An
icon made of four parts in a sort of X shape indicates you can use
an inventory item on that spot.
You can access
your inventory by mousing over a small black area labelled
"Inventory" in the upper left part of the screen . Doing this will
cause your inventory bar to appear along the top of the screen. A
tooltip-type description of an inventory item will appear if you
hover your cursor over it. There is an eyeball with the letters
"EXAMINE" under it at the leftmost side of the inventory bar.
Dragging the eyeball over an inventory item will give a full screen
view of the item along with a spoken comment. You use an inventory
item by left-clicking on it and dragging it from the inventory bar
to where you want to use it on the screen. To combine inventory
items, you drag one item over the other.
Loading during the game are the same as in Lifestream. To save, you
right-click and a taskbar appears at the top of the page through
which you can Save, Load, or Exit. Saves are located in the game
folder. You can delete unwanted saves through the save interface
(not the load interface) with the "Remove Selected" button. You can
also delete unwanted saves by browsing to the game folder and
deleting them as you would any other file. You are allowed an
unlimited number of saves.
When you start
a new game, you are given the option of playing in an "adventure
only" mode, which will cause the game to skip any dexterity related
sequence. You also have the option of playing a "censored" mode that
will skip the "mature" scenes and parts of scenes.
has a point system similar to the point system in the old Sierra
games and, more recently, Return to Mysterious Island. During the
game you can see how many points you've racked up so far by clicking
the "Points" option in your "Things to do" list. Your final point
score will be displayed after you've finished the game and allowed
the credits to finish rolling. Note that you cannot get all points
if you play in the "adventure only" mode.
There are no
adjustments for sound or brightness and no subtitles option.
"Mature" Stuff - What gets "censored" in "censored" mode
section of the review involves descriptions of both "modes" of play
and therefore contains mild spoilers, references to vulgar language
and to sexual content.
There are some
girly pictures in a desk drawer that won't appear if you use
"censored" mode. There are some "Playguy" magazines on a table which
you cannot pick up if you are using "censored" mode. In "uncensored"
mode, you are able to see different magazine covers, some of which
are more "revealing" than the one on the top. The pinups on the wall
in the same room are not "censored." Some naughty doodles in a book
are pixellated so you can't get a good look at them. There are two
X-rated emails on a computer that won't be accessible in "censored"
There is a sex
scene where two people are making love in bed which gets "censored."
It's all done under the covers and is similar to what you might see
in a daytime soap opera. The entire "uncensored" cut scene
interweaves clips from the sex scene along with clips from other
events that are going on at the same time. But with the clips from
the sex scene cut from the "censored" version, the flow of the
sequence is interrupted and in my opinion the sequence loses some of
its impact. There is another scene where there is a brief glimpse of
a mostly nude woman which leaves nothing to the imagination. Later
in the sequence there is an anatomically correct close-up of a part
of her upper body that isn't generally revealed to public view.
These are cut from the "censored" version.
sequence shows the remains of dead people. The more gruesome parts
of this sequence are cut from the "censored" version (like the one
with the bug and the eye socket). This sequence might be considered
more upsetting than usual because of who the victims are. But the
victims are the same in the "censored" version. In my opinion,
cutting the sequence only diminishes the effect of seeing Jake's
horror at what was done. For an alternate version to work well, you
really have to do more than just chop out the "offensive" parts.
None of the
language in the game is altered in "censored" mode, but it is fairly
mild to begin with. There is the occasional "d***" and a couple of
words that refer to one's posterior. One character tells another to
"go to h***" during a fight and someone else says the same thing
under dire circumstances. There is at least one "s***" and one "son
of a b****." But there are no F-bombs or other more extreme
recommend using "censored" mode. There is very little in the game
that is all that bad to look at (except for the gory stuff in the
cave). And the "censored" mode is not going to make the game "family
friendly" even if you do use it. I think the idea of an alternate,
less potentially offensive version is good, but it seemed too
obvious to me that more attention was paid to how the cut scenes
played in the "uncensored" version. For the "censored" version the
"offensive" parts were simply cut out without adjusting the rhythm
of how the scenes fit together and the result was less than
satisfactory (in my opinion).
As with most
independently produced games, the graphics aren't on a par with
commercial offerings. They are, however, well done for an
independent game. Michael B. Clark (creator of Harvest and The
Arrangement) assisted with the 3D renderings and his art continues
to improve. The female characters in Shady Brook don't have the
"football shoulders" that made them look so butch in The
Arrangement. The faces of the characters are nicely detailed and
attention was paid to lip synching during conversations. There are
still problems with the animation, most notably when the characters
are walking. Indoor areas look similar in quality to the ones in
games like Lifestream, Harvest, and The Arrangement - not
photorealistic, but with clean lines and an overall pleasing
appearance. Some of the textures used in outdoor areas to indicate
grass or dirt didn't work as well though.
Lifestream, Shady Brook does not have transitions that play as you
move from one node to the next. There are places, like when you're
walking down the road, where one click will show a quick succession
of two or three images. But for the most part, the game orients you
by having the nodes set close enough together that you won't lose
track of where you are.
Some of the
cut scenes are very nicely done. The movie that plays when you begin
a new game, showing Jake's car driving into town, is put together in
a cinematic style and is a great start to the game.
ranged between OK and excellent. First time voice actress Page
Purgar did a wonderful job as Kate, proving that you don't have to
be a professional to do a professional job if you have the talent.
Inferno did a fine job as Tanya, the mayor's wife, as well as
voicing two other supporting characters. John Bell gave his usual
solid performances for most of the male voices. The only character I
didn't think sounded right was the one who played the main
character. The actor originally cast in the role of Jake deserted
the project halfway through. The voice of his replacement sounded
too old or too hoarse (in my opinion) to suit the character. Not the
actor's fault of course, and perhaps I'm being too picky, but I
never quite got used to Jake sounding the way he did.
mostly worked, but were sometimes a bit off. For example, when Jake
exited a building and the door slammed behind him, it didn't sound
the way that type of door would have sounded. It sounded so
different that I didn't make the connection at first, and was left
wondering what that noise that I heard when I exited buildings was
supposed to be.
sound and music were OK. Music was usually matched to the area or
the situation. Sometimes it was less tune-oriented than
mood-oriented, as inside the church.
does not come with any paper documentation. There is a manual on the
DVDR inside the Help folder (click the index.htm file). After the
game installs, the installer should offer to install the XviD codec,
without which the game will not function. (If you already have the
codec, it should be listed in your Add/Remove Programs menu.) The
installer does not do a complete install. By default, cut scenes and
conversations play off the DVDR.
(as listed on the game disk)
IBM PC or
Pentium III 1
516 MB RAM
350 MB Hard
Windows-compatible sound card and mouse
(I think he
meant to say 512 MB RAM, but it says 516 MB in the file)
are warnings that the game won't work properly with a SoundMax, the
one in my Athlon64 computer actually gave better sound than the
computers I played it on
1 GB system
SD-M1702 DVD drive
5700 graphics card with 256 MB
card identified by Windows as a SoundMax
Windows XP SP1
Pentium 4 3200
1024 MB system
16X Samsung SD
616E DVD drive
ATI X800 SE
graphics card with 128 MB
version from Dell)
I attempted to
play Shady Brook on the following computer (Athlon XP 1800+), but
gave up because of terrible problems with lag, missing hotspots, and
audio distortion that rendered it essentially unplayable. After
following the instructions for copying files to the hard drive (see
"Additional Comments" section), the game ran smoothly.
1800+ (about 1533 MHz)
512 MB system
SD-M1912 DVD drive
graphics card with 32 MB
There is a
patch to correct a problem that occurs if you're playing the
Adventure mode. The patch can be found here:
support for Shady Brook (and Lifestream) can be found here
There is a
available for Shady Brook. It is very similar to the one for
Lifestream, with Easter Eggs and comments about the plot along with
a walkthrough, accompanied by illustrations in black-and-white. I
noticed one error where a step was left out of the solution to the
box puzzle, but the solution is available online if you can't figure
out the problem on your own. If ordered along with the game, the
guide is $6.
been a number of complaints about bugs. The most common is a lag
problem that I believe is related to the DVD drive's efficiency at
reading data off the DVDR during conversations and cut scenes. A
solution to this has been offered by a Gameboomers member, who
suggested copying the contents of the Frames folder on the DVDR into
the corresponding folder in the Shady Brook installation folder and
renaming the RunFromCD.dat file to RunFromCD.old. If you're having
troubles with lag, and nothing else is helping, this solution might
be worth trying as long as you have adequate space on your hard
drive. There are about 2.3 GB worth of data in that folder. I've
tried this on my Pentium IV and it improved the game's performance
quite a bit. It also made the difference between the game being
playable and not playable on my Athlon XP 1800+.
Every time you
start the game you'll see a warning saying if you bought the game
from any source other than the developer's website, that it's a
pirate version. This is an attempt by the developer to trace whoever
might be selling pirate versions of his game. I found it annoying
that I had to see it every single time I started the game instead of
only when I installed it - like having a nag screen after you've
already bought a shareware utility.
will probably interest gamers who enjoy conversations in adventure
games more than those who love puzzle solving. Although the puzzles
in the game were fun, there weren't that many of them and you spend
a good deal of time locating people and having conversations with
them. Shady Brook is also not a game for people who demand the
latest eye candy. I also would not recommend it to those with
hearing difficulties because of the lack of subtitles. As to the
quality of the story, I did not find it as original or interesting
as the story in Lifestream. But most adventure gamers who have
posted about Shady Brook at adventure game forums so far seem to
have enjoyed the story.
complete the game, an "Extras" selection appears in the main menu.
This introduces Christopher M. Brendel's upcoming games, "The Alpha
Report" and "Awaken." Trailers for the two games are available
through the Extras selection. I thought "The Alpha Report" looked
particularly interesting and will be looking forward to it.
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