Archie Barrel - Case: Hotel Imperial is an adventure game that most of our readers are very unlikely to play. The reason is quite simple - this is a Russian game and only a version with Russian text and voiceovers appears to be available. My Russian isn't very good either but (to my surprise) it was good enough to enjoy this exotic and somewhat unusual game.
There is another factor preventing Archie Barrel from reaching a large segment of the gamer population: this adventure is absolutely, positively not for children. ThinkLeisure Suit Larry but somewhat more explicit. So if you're under the legal age, stop reading right now!
Archie Barrel is a first person adventure in classical 2D point and click style with cartoon style characters and animations. It is a detective game (more or less) taking place probably in Los Angeles very roughly around 1935, but it is hard to tell exactly. Not that it matters. As is customary, the game opens with a cutscene. The first thing we see is Hey you! Yes, you! I told you to stop reading! Come back when you're older!
Anyway in the opening shot we see a short scene of three pigeons copulating (or whatever it is that pigeons do) on Archie's windowsill. Yes, you read that right. To be honest, that is the most sexually explicit scene in the entire game. The camera pans and there is another interesting scene, this time wholly implicit. We see Archie's desk with just a female leg occasionally showing. The accompanying audio suggests that someone is either having great fun or is violently ill - but it is impossible to tell which from the video alone.
The phone on the desk rings. Archibald Barrel, the hero of the game and a private dick, rises from behind the desk and somewhat distractedly picks up the phone. On the line is a Mr. Mandragoras, local mafia boss and Archie's prospective client. He complains about his wife being unfaithful and wants to hire Archie to provide some evidence. She is apparently very beautiful and Archie is explicitly warned not to even think about touching her. Her name is Victoria Lane and she was last seen at Hotel Imperial. Somewhere at this point a naked young lady stands up from behind Archie's desk, dresses up and leaves in disgust. Archie negotiates a good price with Mr. Mandragoras and he's off to Hotel Imperial.
Those very few of you who are planning on playing this game might wish to skip the next five paragraphs where I'm going to divulge a large part of Archie Barrel's story.
The actual game starts in the lobby of Hotel Imperial. Archie makes an inquiry at the hotel desk and rents a room. Then he goes to explore the hotel. The Imperial is not very large (it's quite small in fact) and at the beginning of the game most of the hotel rooms are inaccessible. Archie's room is right next to Victoria Lane's (what luck!) but the door is guarded by a huge and menacing dog. On of the hotel's guests is an old German soldier in a wheelchair. His name is Herr Schlange, he's wearing an old military helmet and appears to be almost completely deranged. He tells Archie about a conspiracy which involves black magic and demons.
The conspirators are supposedly other hotel guests, an old Frenchman and a priest. The priest does behave rather suspiciously (he has very un-priestly ways) but Archie presumably doesn't believe any of this conspiracy nonsense. He goes on to meet other hotel guests and employees. There's a pretty chambermaid called Lucy who dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. And there's of course Victoria Lane. She's not very friendly to Archie, in fact she's positively icy. Later on the desk clerk tells Archie that she's lesbian - so much for that romance.
Nevertheless, Archie manages to catch Victoria with her skirt down (both figuratively and literally) and get it on film. Which is of course exactly the kind of evidence Mr. Mandragoras was looking for. Case closed. Except... Archie's not ready to leave the hotel yet. He wants to meet with more of the hotel's female occupants. That will prove to be a near fatal mistake.
Archie sends the film reel by courier and as he's coming back to his room, he sees another hotel guest, a chic photo model, banging on his door. She seems very distressed and tells Archie about strange goings on in the room next to hers. Apparently some black magic ritual. Unafraid, Archie goes to investigate. He witnesses something that indeed looks like black magic - pentagram, black candles and a demon too! He's noticed and quickly hides on the balcony... but when he wants to leave room, poof! Suddenly Archie finds himself in a female body.
That of course isn't something he'd consider good news. Even worse, his own body seems to have been taken over by one of the demoniacs. To top it off, there's also the rather unhappy ghost of the rightful owner of Archie's new body. What a mess! Archie will spend the rest of the game trying to get his old body back and generally restore the order of things. That'll teach him to chase skirts next time... or maybe not. Some men never learn.
Now that you've heard the crazy story, it's time to look at the game itself. It comes on one CD, can be fully installed to the hard drive and does not require the CD to play (how convenient!). The entire game is very unserious. This starts with the options menu where you can attempt to turn on nonexistent features such as multiplayer, 4D graphics and so on.
The graphics are in fact not 4D at all, "only" 2D - the style seems to be a combination of 3D rendered, hand drawn and photographic images. The backgrounds look very nice. All characters are cartoon style and well animated (although there is not much animation). As I mentioned before, the view is first person, "slideshow" style, sometimes switching to third person in cutscenes. The game runs in high color, 800x600 resolution.
Sound has likewise very good technical quality. I couldn't really judge the quality of voiceovers, but I liked them. An interesting feature is Archie's "inner voice" that occasionally tells him what to do and what not to do, especially when Archie's talking to other people - and sometimes it mocks Archie too. This voice also describes all the objects that Archie examines. Music is quite good as well, with several retro style tracks looping during the game and a cool title song. The music style fits the game very well.
Puzzles are mostly but not exclusively inventory based. You for instance have to find the combination for a suitcase lock or figure out a phone number from a friend's note. Some of the puzzles are more funny than logical. There is also a number of "red herring" objects that have no use whatsoever. The game logic is also buggy in several places in that it lets you do things before you're supposed to - which can be highly confusing.
The game's story is crazy, wacky, funny and not at all serious. The game starts almost serious but gets weirder and crazier towards the end. The game can also be quite funny - or offensive, depending on your perspective. I thought it was the former. Perhaps the most unusual feature of Archie Barrel are three videotapes that are hidden at the hotel. These are only very tangentially related to the story and each tape contains a small, black & white, several minute long clip of a young lady stripping. Don't ask me where they got a VCR in the 1930s. If you like naked young Slavic girls, don't miss these tapes. If you don't, you should probably completely avoid this game in the first place... but viewing these tapes is optional and not necessary to finish the game.
I admit that I liked Archie Barrel - Case: Hotel Imperial. This game is unlikely to make it into the adventure hall of fame, nevertheless I found it quite entertaining - and after all, that's what games are for. The story is pretty wild, the puzzles are a bit rough but graphics and sound are very good and there's a bit of sex thrown in to spice things up - even though it is not really central to the story. If this is the kind of game you like and you understand Russian, be sure to pick up Archie Barrel.
Final Grade: B-