Frankenstein: Through the eyes of the Monster
Well, Mary Shelley certainly started something big when she unleashed her imagination and put pen to paper to write her novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Over the years it has inspired numerous films and plays and stories; it was surely only a matter of time before it made its appearance as a computer game. This retelling, however, is a little different -- in it you actually get to play the monster.
You open your eyes to find yourself flat on your back staring at the dark, cloudy sky through a circular hole in the ceiling. A dark figure hovers nearby and immediately begins gloating over his success in creating life. You sit up, confused ... but not for long. With a little vicious prompting you recall who you are -- Phillip Werren. You were wrongly accused, convicted and executed for the murder of your own daughter, Gabrielle. And your 'saviour' is none other than Dr Frankenstein played by a suitably depraved Tim Curry.
So your adventure begins, and it is played out in a first person perspective. The only bits of your anatomy you get to see are your hands and, much to your dismay, one of them is a woman's hand. You stand up and stagger around to begin your exploration of the dark, mysterious castle that is your prison. There is an intriguing and disturbing story to unfold as you uncover letters, notes and documents that reveal the outrageous experiments of your benefactor. To your utter horror you discover that he has played quite a significant, and detrimental, role in your life (or should I say your death), and you resolve to make him pay for his efforts.
Of any game I have played over the past few years this has been the one that has most reminded me of Myst though, unfortunately, it doesn't sustain its momentum so it doesn't reach the same lofty heights. Somehow the storyline fails to 'gel' and, if you are like me, much of the time you will be doing things without really knowing why. Still, there are plenty of interesting puzzles and the graphics and music certainly do an excellent job of building up the atmosphere of a medieval castle. Especially in the opening scene, Tim Curry's overdone performance manages to send a tingle or two down your spine.
Besides the first person perspective, and the evocative music and graphics Frankenstein has one other aspect that is reminiscent of Myst. The puzzles. The major part of this game consists of searching out documents to help you manipulate various pieces of machinery such as mining equipment. There are numerous switches to flip, dials to set, buttons to press and levers to pull, so if you enjoy mechanical type problems then this would surely be satisfying. First up, however, you are presented with some fairly typical adventure type puzzles to get you into the mood, and there is a lot of exploring to do. You also have a small inventory, but you can't collect any items until you find the all important bag in which to store your goodies.
Castles are dark and dingy places so for the entire game you'll be wandering around in the gloom. And be ready for a lot of wandering in this game, and a lot of mapping if you want to get really 'serious'. There are 2 fairly substantial mazes -- a hedge maze and a warren of secret passages, and other parts of the castle and mines are nearly as complicated to negotiate. Now I'm a confessed maze addict, I'm always perfectly happy to get out the pen and paper and map every conceivable nook and cranny, but, even I thought this device was overdone in Frankenstein.
Apart from this, however, there are a variety of things to do. In your travels you will come across many weird contraptions. Some are just fun to manipulate and build up the atmosphere of the castle, whilst with others it is advisable not to try doing anything until you have found the document that explains exactly what it is you must do. Though you probably can figure out these puzzles by trial and error, some good advice will save a lot of time. Therefore you must carefully read and note many of the items you come across in the darkened rooms and passageways. There are a number of locked doors about the place, some remain locked, some you must find a way to unlock, but for others various actions seem to trigger their opening and thus the story progresses.
Now if you were locked in a creepy castle with a maniac who delighted in collecting body parts, and might even fancy re-recycling a bit of you in the near future, it seems to me that your one objective should be to escape. This is exactly what you don't seem to be doing in Frankenstein, though, to be fair, a lynch mob is lurking beyond the castle walls and they might not take kindly to a dead man!
Your first test in the game is to emulate Dr Frankenstein and try to create life yourself to prove that his magical 'Energy L' actually works. Logical in a way if, as the game explains, you want to prove that you really are still alive. But then, as you continue exploring and learning about Dr Frankenstein's experiments from the notes strewn around, ultimately the only thing to do is to take your cues and get the various contraptions up and running. This I did, whilst never really understanding why.
Of course, all eventually becomes clear and your experimentation is finally put to a good cause, but to my mind the logic was lost. Now I am willing to concede that I missed some important explanation; or maybe I did things in the wrong order and the revelationary sequence that was triggered near the end of the game should have happened earlier so that my hard work with the various devices had some imperative behind it. That would have made more sense as I would have known exactly why I was trying to get the machinery working.
There is no text in Frankenstein so if you have hearing problems you won't be able to follow the dialogue. There is just a single 'action' cursor represented by a hand so when you select an object you will use it rather than look at it. This, I thought, was unfortunate because not every object or item in the game is immediately recognisable. A commentary of some description would have helped those of us not overly familiar with mechanical devices. The conveyor belts in the mine had me fooled for quite some time and the diving helmet was also a bit of a mystery for a while.
However, I am pleased to note that you can save just as many games as you like. Also, there is a help option incorporated with the cursor that animates it when passed over an object with which you can interact. So if you don't like clicking on everything, you can activate this option to save yourself some grief.
Despite the stumbles in the plot, I found this to be quite an interesting game. It certainly had great potential even if it wasn't quite realised, and it has plenty of entertainment value for anyone fascinated by the macabre. After all, Frankenstein is no fairy tale. You'll get to study the odd severed arm, a couple of 'creatures' of Dr Frankenstein's very own design, as well as a bottled brain or two.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996.
All rights reserved.
486 DX 25 CPU, 4MB of memory (560 K free base memory) SVGA dispay, double speed CD-ROM, MPC2 compliant sound card, Microsoft Mouse or compatible, DOS 5.0 or newer, Windows 3.1 or newer, Apple QuickTime for Windows 2.01 or newer, 8 MB of free hard drive space.