Shivers (Windows)

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Written by  :  Tal Cohen (33)
Written on  :  Jan 05, 2009
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars

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A seemingly campy horror mystery that is more than meets the eye

The Good

Shivers is an interesting departure for Sierra. Following the immense success and popularity of Myst, the veteran AGs company decided it was time to venture into uncharted territory, and thus Shivers was conceived.

Featuring 1st person perspective and a Myst-esque solitude, Shivers is quite a change from the traditional 3rd person, characters-laden earlier and contemporary Sierra titles. Moreover, only one item can be carried in the inventory at a time, which is limited to one type of objects.

So how did Sierra fare in this new yet perilous path? The answer, after experiencing Shivers, is well, very well indeed.

The first impression that one might get is that of a pretty much hackneyed, even cheesy teen horror slasher. But as one delves deeper into the bowels of the haunted museum, one learns there's much more here. True to its name, the museum/mansion you're marooned at by your friends (as shown in the introduction) is a treasure trove of the bizarre, the mysterious and the macabre. As for the latter, don't expect the standard set by games like Phantasmagoria, the content is comparatively mild and unharmful, nothing on the same scale as those titles at any rate.

As you explore the vast interior of the complex that is the museum, you'll encounter a wide gamut of interesting factoids and tidbits about an even wider range of ancient civilizations, arcane myths, occult stories and legendary figures and beings. Beside these are pieces of information about the late owner and curator of the museum, as well as a couple of adolescents who went missing there years ago. They come in the form of journals and books usually authored by the characters themselves, and make the bulk of the plot.

Of course, everything is crucial to peeling the layers of the mystery. As with many games of its kind, keen observation and great attention to detail are key in Shivers. Figuring out and uncovering all those secrets lying about provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment and gratification. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to mess around with all those exhibits in the museums you've been to? Play Shivers and you'll probably find out.

As said, the inventory is limited to one single item, which is invariably either a pot or its matching lid, or the combination of the two used for ensnaring the evil spirits (or Ixupi) that haunt the museum - which is the main objective of the game. This, of course, requires finding the two parts of the pot, and then locating the tangible manifestation of the element the newly assembled vessel represents, which is where the Ixupi lingers. The fractured parts are hidden all over the place, and mostly a puzzle is required to be solved before they can be obtained. Puzzles and riddles mostly reflect each section's central theme. Gameplay is non-linear, in that it's possible to work on multiple problems simultaneously - there's no rigid order in which to play, and you get free access to all the rooms.

The inventory may allow for only one item, however there's an extremely useful tool that is actually a more than adequate alternative. What I'm referring to is the Flashback menu. In addition to keeping track of all the viewed cut-scenes, it also records all of the important documents found (books, letters, journals).

The graphics are pre-renders, very reminiscent of Phantasmagoria - a little bit tacky and kitsch, but good enough. Movement is done via directional arrows, and is slideshow-style a la Myst. FMV cut-scenes use live actors, to varying qualities of acting and performing, but this is not really the point here anyway. The graphics may not be all that impressive per se, especially in comparison to the Myst series, but the awesome design compensates for this: The museum is a colossal assortment of neat and varied exhibits which attract the eye from the second you enter a new area. It's all very eclectic and diverse; you never get bored - what more do you need?

The Bad

Apparently, Shivers was marketed to teens, and indeed this is quite evident throughout the game. There's this very prominent side-flavour of campiness, the same evoked by Phantasmagoria.

For one, the Ixupi, which are supposed to be foul, menacing wicked spirits, look too cartoonish and are poorly animated - their physical appearance is far from how they're described. This diminishes greatly from the game's serious, horrific premise and tone.

Another issue is the puzzles. They vary too much in quality and difficulty, two criteria which don't necessarily go together. For example, the marble solitaire and pinball machine pose quite a challenge, but they're not nearly as interesting as the contextual, plot-based puzzles. And this is the weakest point here - unlike its inspiration, Myst, Shivers is fraught with self-contained, independent and unrelated challenges (e.g. jigsaw puzzles). This lends it a sort of a mini-games arena side-taste that is unwelcome.

Yet again we have a point n' click mania due to absent hotspots indication, not unlike Riven, but at least directional arrows do make an appearance here, fortunately. This leads to much frustration at times, especially in the library, for obvious reasons.

The Bottom Line

Phantasmagoria for kids, Myst in a horror setting, Alone in the Dark sans combat - whatever moniker you choose for it, and whatever comparison you make, Shivers will rise up to the challenge and prove it stands on its own as a fantastic experience for any adventure games player.

Just don't let the first impression mislead you, or the less-inspired puzzles dismay you. Shivers holds in it many surprises which are mostly pleasant, and it's enthralling and engrossing regardless of the few drawbacks.