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SummaryA many-faceted gem with only a few flaws
The GoodThe Watchmaker's engaging story evolves gradually and suspensefully intensifies as the end nears. The plot unfolds by talking to characters and finding out about the history of the old castle and its former inhabitants. Finding locations and objects triggers important cut-scenes, as does solving the puzzles.
The puzzles are not hard, but you'll be doing quite a bit of digging to find the answers. As you would expect, most of the puzzles require using and manipulating inventory objects and conversing with the castle's personnel to obtain information. Reading books and parchments, as well as art on the walls, will gain you clues. The puzzles are well-integrated into the story and are very "true to life." In my opinion, none of them seemed added in unnecessarily.
I can't say I really liked the interface, but after awhile it became "old hat." Keep the manual handy, because your keyboard is as important as your mouse! The Function (F1, etc.) Shift, Spacebar and Tab keys are used for saving and loading games, options, inventory access as well as interaction with on-screen objects. This may be hard for most adventure gamers to get accustomed to, but once it is mastered, it is easy to understand and use. Your mouse gets plenty of work-out too - left-click to move and to look at something from afar; right-click to open or use something.
Within the game you can set options for music and sound effects volume and whether you want sub-titles on or off (Yes!).
Inventory use is handled with a right mouse click, and items can be combined and transferred between the 2 characters with a special selection routine from within the inventory window.
I've played quite a few adventure games lately that limit your saves to 7 or 8 slots. I was pleased to see that is not the case in this game. The number of saved games is limited only by your hard disk space, although only a snapshot, the time and date are saved (without an option for a description).
Switching between characters is great! Play a little in Darrel's location and then see if Victoria can find something new where she is. They share the information in their PDAs as if they were "of one mind". Some of the NPCs will not talk to Darrel so you must use Victoria (or visa versa), who can be called to your side instantly. Those that will talk to either will many times have something new to say to the other character too. This makes for more realistic conversations.
And, you can open and look at everything even if nothing is inside - another plus! You can spend hours simply looking at the art displayed on the walls.
For those of you with newer machines, you may be able to run the game in larger resolution than 640x480 and get better graphics quality than I did. The designers provided a set-up file outside the game by which the resolution and effects can be selected to suit your system and video card. (Tip: Reducing the resolution can help game performance.)
While exploring you are able to pan around the 3D environment to look around more completely. In fact, this is necessary in order to find important things in the scenery. Overall, the graphics are nice but are not nearly as beautiful as in, say, Myst. (See the below section for more on this.)
Music and Sound:
The Watchmaker incorporates a beautiful original soundtrack full of orchestrated music that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout. It provided just the right amount of background ambiance and suspense when needed.
There are very few sound effects. You will hear important sounds (clocks ticking, water running etc.) but there are no unessential sounds to mar the experience.
The BadWhile I liked the graphics well enough, some of the rooms were darker than they needed to be (even for an 18th century Victorian castle). The NPC characters were a bit pixelated and blocky at the 640x480 resolution setting. This was also true in "close-up" view in the scenes.
I missed not having an in-game travel map because getting from place to place became a bit tedious. I learned to strategically place my characters inside and outside of the castle when I could.
While moving around, sometimes a mouse click will put your character in a completely opposite direction than you had intended. Using the arrow keys on your keyboard will move them better.
The voice actors and actresses did a fairly good job of portraying their characters. I say "fairly" because, in the English version at least, the person who spoke for the characters Jude and Carla was so monotoned that it was almost painful. (I know Jude was supposed to be a sophisticated but bored individual, but more expression would have done wonders!)
I experienced a few crashes and speech stutters, even after installing the sound files to my hard drive (another external option) and reducing the resolution to minimum. Some of this was helped by making sure all running programs were disabled or closed before starting the game, but not all.
The Bottom LineI recommend The Watchmaker to all adventure game fans. Although getting "into it" is a little hard at first, mastering the controls will get things moving within your first hour. The combination of a great story, a good number of characters to talk to and varied locations and puzzles will keep you interested for a long while. The game is not too short and the ending is extremely satisfying.
The last sentence makes one wonder if it is truly finished or if there will be more repercussions due to the Watchmaker's actions ... "But if the players have all gone, is the game over?". A sequel, perhaps? I hope so.