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

Walkthrough

 

 

 

by Jenny100

 

Shady Brook Review

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.

Story

Your 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.

Puzzles and Gameplay

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 considered spoilers.

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.

Controls

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.

Saving

Saving and 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.

Options

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.

Shady Brook 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.

The "Mature" Stuff - What gets "censored" in "censored" mode

Warning:  This 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" mode.

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.

Another 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 expressions.

I wouldn't 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).

Graphics

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.

Unlike 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.

Sound

Voice acting 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.

Sound effects 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.

Background 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.

Installation

Shady Brook 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.

Required Specs (as listed on the game disk)

IBM PC or compatible

Pentium III 1 GHz

Windows 98/2000/ME/XP

516 MB RAM 

350 MB Hard Drive space

640x480 resolution

24-Bit Color display

DVD-ROM drive

Windows-compatible sound card and mouse

Macromedia Flash Player

(I think he meant to say 512 MB RAM, but it says 516 MB in the file)

Although there are warnings that the game won't work properly with a SoundMax, the one in my Athlon64 computer actually gave better sound than the SBLive.

The computers I played it on

Windows 2000 SP2

Athlon64 3200+

1 GB system RAM

16x Toshiba SD-M1702 DVD drive

Geforce FX 5700 graphics card with 256 MB

onboard sound card identified by Windows as a SoundMax

 

Dell 8400

Windows XP SP1

Pentium 4 3200 MHz

1024 MB system RAM

16X Samsung SD 616E DVD drive

ATI X800 SE graphics card with 128 MB

SBLive (OEM 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.

Windows 2000 SP2

Athlon XP 1800+ (about 1533 MHz)

512 MB system RAM

16x Toshiba SD-M1912 DVD drive

Matrox G550 graphics card with 32 MB

SBLive Value 5.1

Additional Comments

There is a patch to correct a problem that occurs if you're playing the Adventure mode. The patch can be found here: http://www.upforums.com/shadybrook/sbpatch1.exe

Technical support for Shady Brook (and Lifestream) can be found here http://www.upforums.com/up/support.htm

There is a Game Guide 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.

There have 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.

Recommendations

Shady Brook 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.

After you 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.

August 31, 2005

design copyright 2005 GameBoomers Group

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