Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: March 2006
Note: Originally published 29 March 2006; this is a review of the Standard Edition
I only just recently pulled the blanket from over my head. This was a difficult feat, mind you, considering I was trying to cover my eyes and ears at the same time. Never mind the fact I was trying to reach the lamp switch with my foot . . . and the “Escape” key was nowhere to be found.
What sort of sick, twisted minds would conceive of such a frighteningly delightful game in such a deceptively simple interface? Who would give a face to terrors that only linger in the deepest recesses of your late night, cold pizza induced nightmares?
Who would have the gall to keep me awake when I should be doing other things . . . like SLEEPING?!
Thank you Nucleosys . . . and here I thought I had cured my insomnia.
Now kids, it is time to assemble what you will need to play Scratches
Of course, gather together your dark corner, super large headphones, and your trusty notebook and ballpoint pen. Here are a couple things I would suggest to ease your journey through Blackwood Manor:
Your happy little Teddy Bear friend, complete with a warm supportive smile. Complete with easy to throw when you’re scared action. (Redskins shirt is optional)
Not that you will really need it, but may I suggest the Grande, no whip, soy, Cinnamon Dolche latte. It’s warm and fuzzy and reminds me of puppies.
Portable Mario crack to make the scary monsters go away before attempting to sleep.
Now, go don the garb mystery author Michael Arthate and prepare for one heck of a creep fest.
All kidding aside, I really did wuss out a few times.
So yes, there were many nights when, after playing Scratches for a scant 45 minutes, I would have to stop and hide under my covers. I’m a wuss, and I can admit it.
It takes quite a scare to get me nowadays. I’m a hardcore adventure gamer, watcher of all things scary, and walking encyclopedia of The X-Files. I approached last winter’s preview of Scratches with the same attitude I do with most of these “scary” games. Sure, it will have creepy atmosphere, with suitably creepy music and story to accompany the claims in the press release. It might get a few, cheap jumps out of me, but in the end, I’ll be like, damn, that place was really depressing and I’m just really confused as to how that was supposed to be scary.
Still Life, Sanitarium, Phantasmagoria, Ripper . . . these games had their scary moments but in the end, became cheap gore fests. (I can hear Phantasmagoria fan boys all over the world cursing me.) Shivers, Morpheus, Blackstone Chronicles were all pretty scary, but ended like most Stephen King novels . . . quick and confusing.
In many ways, I feel that Scratches has become a spiritual successor to the terrifyingly brilliant Amber: Journeys Beyond. And here’s why:
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Nucleosys has hit the nail on the head with their design of Scratches and gone back to what made Adventures so brilliant to begin with. We are placed in moody, pre-rendered environments of the rural English countryside. Animations are at a minimum, sounds are sparse, and the whole thing reeks of atmosphere. This game is not bogged down in gimmicks and new, “earth shattering” technology that will make everyone look at adventures differently. The interface is clean, point and click node-based movement with an easy to use inventory and menu. Plain and simple, just the way I like it. This helped with my immersion into the world of Scratches.
Scratches pits you against an ancient curse that has taken hold over the lives of the previous tenants of Blackwood manor. You, as Michael Arthate, unknowing of this curse, purchase the home in an effort to create the right setting to finish your sophomore literary triumph. However, strange journals call you away from your work, leading you to bizarre photographs scattered throughout the house, creating a paper trail that unravels a tale more fascinating than the one you are trying to weave. The game calls upon you to face many commonly shared fears, and these were what kept me awake most nights, flipping the channels and hoping my DS would hold out for one more round of Mario. I won’t spoil these challenges, but if you’ve already had a go at Scratches, then you share my dread.
Perfect setting . . . for murder . . . BWAHAHAHAHAHA
Nucleosys did a beautiful job in creating the visuals for Scratches. Like I described in the preview I did in December, each node is shaded like a watercolor painting. I felt as if I were playing inside a work of art. The addition of many famous art pieces to the walls of Blackwood Manor were a nice touch, and buying the game is much cheaper than going to most art museums. The rooms are shadowy and reclusive, as if each holds a secret that is just begging for you to take a closer look at, whether or not you may be covering your eyes.
Sound designers Cellar of Rats created an excellent soundscape, from the heart pounding strings when I enter the basement of the manor, the sparse native drums in the art gallery, to the actual scratches themselves. You know, the ones you hear in the middle of the night when all should be quiet? I swear my roommate started scratching the wall the other night just to wake me.
I found two drawbacks to Scratches, and they’re picky ones, so forgive me. The first is in the choice of mouse icons. There isn’t really a definite “use item here, dummy” icon, and this became confusing because you can look at and get a comment on almost everything in the house. There were times when I would walk around trying to use an item with everything I could click on just to figure out the purpose of having it in my inventory. The item will light up when you pass it across the item being looked at, but there is no separate action icon. The second gripe is the limit of 10 savegame slots. Why only ten? Why not 40? Because of the scary nature of the game, I played it in small doses (considering I only had time at night). This became a problem if I wanted to save after every small session and I ended up having to save over some of my earlier games.
I challenge you . . .
Okay readers, what is there not to love here? Scratches should be on the shelf of any gamer out there. I challenge all of you to pick up a copy of this game when your next paycheck comes through and show some love to Nucleosys. They have really pulled out all the stops with their first effort and created one classic piece of Adventure gaming.
Just don’t get too used to that luxury called sleep.
Final Grade: A
800 MHz CPU
128 MB RAM
16 MB OpenGL-compatible video card
24x CD-ROM drive