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Written by  :  Katakis | カタキス (40066)
Written on  :  Feb 13, 2019
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars

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When office romances take a ride on the wild side

The Good

As a common practice, when game companies like Sierra and LucasArts create sequels to their popular titles, those titles would feature the same protagonist from the previous games. You would think the same rule applies when Sierra developed a sequel to Phantasmagoria. Nope. A Puzzle of Flesh was spearheaded by Lorelei Shannon, who also was in charge of Pepper’s Adventures in Time and helped co-wrote King’s Quest VII with Roberta Williams. In addition, the protagonist is male; and the making of this game involved filming on location near the company’s headquarters, and not actors being plonked in front of a blue screen, along with some props. However, A Puzzle of Flesh shares one thing in common with its predecessor – its themes.

After spending some time in a mental institution, 26-year-old Curtis Craig returns to work where he gets to associate with his interesting co-workers. While working at WynTech, he has hallucinations, flashes of gore, or receives odd e-mails. His co-workers are found brutally murdered, and he finds out this may be connected to the “Threshold” project, a top-secret project that his father was also involved in. During the game’s five chapters, you will do some other interesting things like going to daily sessions with a therapist, discussing life growing up, work, and the Threshold; snoop through your superior’s office; deal with an aggressive cop; and experience the joys of S&M.

Curtis's co-workers are likeable, and I was sad to see what happened to them. I could tell that Trevor was gay through his behavior, dialogue, and fondness of Curtis. Jocilyn has an on-again-off-again relationship with Curtis, and this ends on a sour note as soon as she finds out that he is cheating on her. Bob is a classic example of the one guy at work that gets on your nerves, but what happens to him afterwards you don't wish that on your enemies. Therese is your wild co-worker who doesn't care if Curtis is taken, and she is prepared to let him share her fetishes. The actors who portrayed their characters did an amazing job, and I could see that the actor who played Therese enjoyed herself filming her scenes.

The game utilizes Sierra’s Creative Interpreter version 3, the final revision of Sierra’s SCI engine before they got into trouble later, and people who have already played KQ7 and Phantasmagoria should be familiar with it. The game is presented in a letterbox format, and you have the one cursor which can be used to interact with objects and move to different areas. Dragging the mouse to the bottom of the screen allows you to access the inventory, and the icon next to your items allows you to examine one of them. In A Puzzle of Flesh, the interface also allows you to review video clips spread over the individual chapters, access the “all-in-one” control panel, and the map (which is useful if you don’t feel like walking all the way to the exit).

In A Puzzle of Flesh, there are a lot of minor video clips of Curtis doing something that range from opening and closing drawers, walking from room to room, opening and closing doors, and sitting down to work. The major ones are reserved in the beginning, middle, and end of each chapter. The clips are stored as DuckMotion (DUK) files, which can be played in VLC media player. (I’m not kidding. Go try it!). Since the clips feature 16-bit colors, but the SCI engine only had 8-bit colors, Sierra programmed the game to have the engine shut down every time the player triggers a clip. This is why you don’t see the interface when a clip is played.

A Puzzle of Flesh is right up there with the first game when it comes to violence. Four chapters in the game ends with a gruesome murder taking place, and there are occasional flashes of gore present in some movie clips. There are quite a few sex scenes added as well, with the first in chapter one. In addition, one of the characters you meet near the final stages of the game – the Hecatomb – is enough to give anyone nightmares. All of this is why some countries have a problem with games that are controversial. The Australian version of the game had the censored mode permanently turned on.

Wes Plate was responsible for the editing, which was done on a Macintosh Quadra 950. This is because the program Sierra wanted him to use was only available on a Mac. It is ironic, then, that the final game did not see a release on the machine. I find it amusing that there are slight pauses at the end, but I don’t know whether this has anything to do with the engine starting back up. I feel a bit sorry for Plate, having to make special cuts for countries that believed in game censorship.

The music in A Puzzle of Flesh is brilliant, and Gary Spinrad did a wonderful job making sure that it blends well with the game’s theme. The early clips, showing Curtis’s hallucinations, have that beat to them, while the music when Curtis is making love to his girlfriend has an easy-listening feel to it. Other pieces I like include the creepy music you hear as you walk around WynTech, as well as those near the end of the game. Spinrad also did the vocals for the ending theme music, which happens to be just as bad as the one in the first game!

The Bad

I found some of the controversial scenes uncomfortable. There is one scene in which Curtis and Therese are having passionate sex in the Borderline’s bathroom after Curtis volunteers to have his navel pierced. I thought that this was a bit extreme. As for the murders, I didn’t have a problem with most of them, but Bob’s murder was too much.

I have to agree with some reviewers that some of the puzzles are illogical. Within the first five minutes into the game, you have to retrieve your wallet from underneath the couch, and you would think to move the couch to get it, right? Wrong. You must involve your pet rat, Blob. Another one is at the end of the game. You are offered no clues as to how to solve it, and it is a matter of clicking everywhere until something happens.

It would have been useful if you could easily play the FMV clips that are not located on the CD that is in the drive, and that a CD request screen appears. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to do anything and all I ended up getting was a “Blue Screen of Death”.

The Bottom Line

A Puzzle of Flesh is a horror game in the same vein as its predecessor, and explores themes that were considered taboo at the time of its release. It is not for the faint-hearted and certainly not one for kids; it has its fair share of violence and sex. This led to some countries either banning or censoring it. It is an interesting game and definitely worth a playthrough.