Enter the Story: A Tale of Two Cities

 

Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Chris Tolworthy & Enter the Story

Released:  August 2010

PC Requirements:   20 MB free RAM 
1 GHz CPU (1.6 GHz recommended)
200 MB free hard disk space (for the first game, additional games will add about 120 MB each)
16 bit color or higher.
No special graphics card is needed.

 

 

 

by Becky

 

A Tale of Two Cities is the fourth game in the Enter the Story series (all based on literary classics), and it's something of a departure from the previous three games. Enter the Story: Les Miserable, Dante's Divine Comedy, and Genesis of the Gods were quirky, even unique -- sometimes awkwardly designed as games, but thought-provoking and full of personality. This fourth game still contains some of the awkwardness in terms of gameplay, but it is less colorful (literally), with a smaller gameworld, less lengthy philosophizing among the characters, and fewer association challenges. It sticks closely to Charles Dickens' original portrayal of the characters and their motivations, but it loses something in the process.

Then Tell the Wind and Fire Where to Stop, but Don't Tell Me

The game opens dramatically, with a startling announcement, followed by a horse and rider racing through the night. Revolution is stirring in 18th century France, and Lucie Manette must go to Paris to find her father, who has just been released from the Bastille. The heroes at this stage seem to be the Defarges, revolutionaries who take care of Dr. Manette until Lucie can arrive from England to take him home. The tale then winds its way into the lives of Charles Darnay, a former French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, who defends Darnay in an English court when he is accused of spying. The angel/heroine from previous games, Peri, reprises her role here, appearing as the Manette's housekeeper, Miss Pross. (None of the characters are voiced.)

The combination of an ensemble cast -- plus temporal and geographical leaps -- makes this story harder to follow than the stories in Les Miserables and Divine Comedy. In A Tale of Two Cities, years pass with just a sentence or two to describe them. One scene ends with Peri as a rabble-rouser, inciting the revolutionaries in Paris. The next scene opens in England a year later, with two main characters now married, a new baby, and another character having recovered from a mental illness. All the new developments are covered in a couple of lines of dialog.

The game does a good job of portraying the conflicted Darnay, who is trying to escape the cruel practices of his ancestors, but can't decide whether to cut all ties to his aristocratic family. Sydney Carton is much more of a cipher than Darnay in the game, and his motivations are not well developed until near the end. Sometimes it seems as though Carton was thrust into the game as an afterthought -- he even has a couple of dialogs where he discusses himself in the third person, as though he's another character entirely. That said, at game's end, Carton's self-doubt and disgust with his past finally starts to come through, at least enough for the ending to be believable.

The ending is tremendously affecting. Despite the gaps in the story and the sketchy development of the characters, it's worth playing the first two thirds of the game in order to experience the last third.

Gardens in which the Fruits of Life Hung Ripening

The Enter the Story games have an unusual art style. The developer, Chris Tolworthy, takes elements from classic paintings and other sources, and crafts them into sweeping vistas. Outdoor scenes contain impressive detail and use extensive panning. The environments are interesting places to explore and, since the elements in them are often drawn from historical sources, they are authentic.

The locations in A Tale of Two Cities contain tones of black, white and grey with occasional accent colors (usually foliage). This monochromatic palette in the game is an intriguing experiment, though by the end it starts to feel rather bland. I hope the "less is more" color trend doesn't continue in the next Enter the Story game -- The Count of Monte Cristo.

Characters in A Tale of Two Cities are sketchily drawn for the most part, and partially animated, including occasional changes in facial expressions. One advantage of this minimalist style of drawing characters is that it's possible to portray Paris and London as places with masses of people loitering, working, and strolling. The individuals in groups are made of just a few smudgy lines, but they do give a sense of crowds that I haven't experienced in other adventure games set in these same cities.

Background music is orchestral and choral and draws on classic compositions, as well as featuring contemporary instrumentals. The music is somewhat more traditional and bombastic than in previous games. My favorites were the tension-filled "Nerves" by Kevin MacLeod and the dramatic "Cello Concerto Opus 104" by Dvorak.

It was the National Razor which Shaved Close

A Tale of Two Cities continues to feature association challenges, where you right-click on a person and then on an object in the environment in order to associate the two. The association puzzles in this game were more direct and, thankfully, didn't require as much back-and-forthing through the gameworld as in previous games. There were fewer association challenges than in previous games, moving the game closer to "interactive story" status.

The non-association challenges are something of a mixed bag. The knitting puzzle (logical to include, given the storyline) unfortunately didn't make a whole lot of sense. It took repeated hints for me to finally understand what I was supposed to be seeing in the knitting. On the other hand, the trebuchet puzzle at the walls of the Bastille was surprisingly fun. Who knew it was so entertaining to lob large objects at stone walls?

At one point, when the story has moved to Paris, information is needed from a source back in England. This is gained in a roundabout way that had me scratching my head. I sent Peri back to get the information, but she couldn't recover it, even standing in the precise spot where the information was to be obtained. Not only that, Peri kept talking about not having time to get back to England, despite the fact that she already WAS back in England. I had to use the Hint system again to figure out what I was supposed to do.

Nothing Else Connected with It to be Looked After

A Tale of Two Cities features a point-and-click interface, and uses a third person perspective. Clicking on the "Help" text at the top of the screen brings up a brief game manual. It's important to learn to use the "Map" and "Recent" functions to facilitate getting back and forth and to make the association challenges easier. The game has an unlimited number of save slots. I experienced only one minor glitch with a temperamental directional arrow outside a prison cell.

In a change of course for this series, you cannot wander from one Enter The Story gameworld right into another gameworld (i.e., you can't leave the Paris locations in A Tale of Two Cities and step into the Paris locations in Les Miserables) . I was relieved to see this change. While the idea of linking up dozens of stories to make a huge adventure game storyworld certainly has appeal, in practice it was disorienting to find myself suddenly in another story. In a further improvement, hints in this game are given without sending you to another location, which again eliminates the "Hey, where am I?" factor.

This is, to some extent, a nonlinear game. As a result, sometimes dialogs and comments are out of place. For instance, after talking to people all over Paris about the guillotine, I brought Peri next to the guillotine on a platform near the center of town. Mobs of people were in the square, all gazing at the "national razor." When I clicked to have Peri describe this famous instrument of execution, she used the standard comment for items with no relevance: "For some reason the word "guillotine" just popped into my head." Apparently I had brought her into the square before the game expected her to be there, and so she couldn't comment effectively on a key story element.

Quick List for Enter the Story: A Tale of Two Cities

This is the fourth offering in the Enter the Story series. The angel Peri returns to France during the best and worst of times. Moral ambiguities, violent revolution, inspirational self-sacrifice.

Third person perspective. Point-and-click interface. Plenty of character interaction. No voiceovers. Significant amounts of reading. The graphics rely heavily on a monochromatic palette.

A graduated hint system and brief tutorial. Unlimited save slots. No serious technical glitches or problems with installation. Dialogs and comments are accessible at times where they don't fit the context.

Associational challenges, a couple of timed challenges, pattern analysis. No sliders, mazes, sound or color based puzzles. Two challenges that are timed, though both have workarounds.

This game is shorter, simpler and more traditional than earlier games in the series, and leans more toward being an interactive story.

Aimed at gamers who enjoy classical, character based stories -- particularly those who want a look at the results of oppression and revolutionary fervor.

Final Grade

As an adventure game: B-

As an interactive story: B

Enter the Story: A Tale of Two Cities can be purchased online at the developer's website here.

Section headings are from the novel: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

What I played it on: 

Dell Studio XPS 8000

Windows 7 Home Premium

Intel Core i5-750 processor

6GB DDR3 SDRAM

1024MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 220

Soundblaster X-Fi

 

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