Note: This review was first published April 26, 2010
When I first agreed to review 3 Cards to Dead Time, I was excited! Why, you might ask? Because it has TEX MURPHY in it!! Well, that's not quite right – it's his voice. And it's not a Tex Murphy adventure. It was however written by Tex (Chris Jones) and Aaron Conners, who were responsible for the original Tex Murphy series. With a pedigree containing (arguably) three of the best-ever adventure games in history, how could they go wrong?
Well, I don't think I set my expectations too high but there was certainly no danger of the bar being raised in any way. I struggled the whole way through this game. I can usually enjoy a casual, “hidden object” game and this one even had a story. It just seemed so contrived – the puzzles seemed to have almost nothing to do with the story. Admittedly, I didn't play the (or even know there was a) previous game in this series. I got the feeling that there was some kind of back story that I wasn't privy to and when I did some research about the title, it became clear. In my opinion, the game does not have a developed-enough storyline to stand alone – if you are hoping to play this game, I thoroughly recommend you play the first in the series, 3 Cards to Midnight.
The story revolves around a girl (Jess) who has inherited a psychic ability involving visions that is activated through the use of tarot cards. Apparently, in the first title her parents were murdered and her grandmother disappeared years before. She is determined to track down the killer even if it means completely disregarding the most understanding and patient boyfriend in history Essentially, the game plays like this: watch a dull PG-13-laced video, choose a tarot card, and then find hidden objects. Admittedly, it's a little more complex than the usual “find the rabbit” type games, in that the player is required to find items that match a theme or category. In most cases, there are multiple categories (one tab each) for a given picture – BE CAREFUL to make sure the correct category is selected or the item you click on will be marked as wrong. I found the resolution a little poor throughout the game-there were times where I clicked on something in the picture because it could have been something that matched the clue. There are limited permissible guesses-click on nine incorrect items and you start over. It is, of course, easier the second (or third...) time you search the picture but I just found it boring to have to repeat everything Thankfully, every 100 points you gain, you are given a hint, which can save a lot of do-overs.
In later picture searches, there are additional challenges, which added a little more interest. These can be skipped if you don't care about the points tally. They can also be replayed if you enjoyed a particular puzzle. Incidentally, the game offers three levels of challenge (easy, challenge, gamer).
Graphics are Nancy Drew-like but not quite as good. They are not attractive by any means and some of the people in the game are quite unattractive unintentionally. The backgrounds in the “hidden object” sections are very pleasing to the eye but need more definition if the player is to have a fair chance of finding targets. Voice acting is below-par, which is really surprising considering Chris Jones' involvement Some of the actors sound like they've phoned their parts in (particularly Chris!) and others sound overacted. Music was very ordinary – it struck me as unremarkable. In fact, in writing this, I wasn't even aware there had been music in the game! All I can say is it must not have been overbearing.
According to the website (www.bigfinishgames.com/3cards/toDeadTime), the game offers at least six hours of gameplay. It can be purchased for download through PayPal for $20 US.
I really didn't like this game. This is no Tex Murphy game. I didn't think things gelled and with the ordinary acting and poorly-integrated puzzles, I found it confusing and boring to play. However, I have seen reviews that completely disagreed with this one, especially if they'd played the first game beforehand. From my experience, though, I give it a C-. I recommend you download the demo from the website before purchasing.