Hitchcock: The Final Cut

Developer:  Arxel Tribe
Publisher:  Wanadoo
Year Released:  2001

Review by Steve Ramsey (December, 2001)
Action in adventure games is something that turns off a lot of adventure game players, but I am not one of them. I cut my teeth on Quake, and confess that I found my way to adventure games through games such as Twinsen's Odyssey and Outcast. Both games have a high degree of action, but both have significant amounts of adventuring and quests typical of more mainstream adventure games, not to mention an unfolding storyline. These things piqued my interest, and I soon found myself playing adventure games almost exclusively.

But I remain a fan of a good action/adventure. As many aren't, let me say up-front that the action aspects of Hitchcock: The Final Cut are mild. It was no more onerous than, say, Dracula: The Last Sanctuary, a game not really considered to be action/adventure. You will need to do things like get out of some locked rooms in a specified amount of time, win the odd shoot out, and cross a roof-top on planks whilst moving objects threaten to knock you off. Even allowing for my background it is reasonably innocuous stuff, and if you fail (and die) the game returns you to the start of the sequence, whether you saved or not. The action is made a little harder by the fact that you can't save in the middle of a sequence, but it shouldn't deter all but the most ardent anti-action players.

Apart from action/adventure, I also love films, particularly of the noir variety, and read a lot of crime and mystery novels. Put them all together and perhaps you have the making of a good game?

"Every jolting scene is true"
Arxel Tribe obviously believed so. More than that, they used the films of Alfred Hitchcock, one of the masters of intrigue, as the backdrop. They developed a script and a setting soaked in the ambience of any or all of his works, and then peopled it with an ensemble of characters that are variously suspect or villain, or both. They also acquired the rights to 6 of Hitchcock's films (Psycho, Frenzy, Torn Curtain, Rope, Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt) and littered the game with extracts of the films, revealed primarily through the psychic visions of the main character, Joseph Shamley. The intention was to create "a real thriller with a hint of black comedy, paying tribute to Hitchcock and offering an overall approach to the meaning of his films through references which speak to the public in general, not only to his fans" (From the Arxel Hitchcock website).

It was with some relish, therefore, that I sat down to Hitchcock; The Final Cut. A mysterious mute woman ambushes Joseph, a private investigator, and convinces him to assist her tycoon uncle, a Hitchcock fan who is making his own movie but whose complete cast and crew has disappeared. Joseph is psychic, the result of a tragic accident, a characteristic that he puts to good use in his investigations.

As a homage to Hitchcock's movies, this game may well be magnificent. I am not a devoted fan, but I have seen quite a few of them and recognised some locations and sets, and the nuances and feel were impressively Hitchcock. It is also dotted with subtle references to many films, and some of the sub-texts clearly tie in to particular movies. No doubt a fan would find many more. Whether it achieves all its goals I am not sure - as a member of the general public, the game did not speak to me of the meaning of his films.

I had fun though, which ultimately is what a game is primarily about, but I did have to struggle with some annoying glitches, and a more than annoying dead end, and others have had to struggle harder than me. These are discussed below.

"See it - if your nerves can stand it"
There is something inherent in an adventure game that lends itself to a Hitchcock investigation - that "what the hell is going on" characteristic - and it is played on here to great effect. None of the cast knew what the movie that they were shooting was about (they were given their lines scene by scene), and nor do you. Nor do you know where they went or why: are they dead or alive, temporarily awol or gone for good? And what of the tycoon, and his shadowy Foundation, or his mute niece with the Myna bird that speaks for her, or the cemetery on the hill and the fleeting almost madness tinged visions?

The intro is an excellent noir cut-scene, and dragged me right in. I will forever remember the line "she was mute but I was just plain dumb". Joseph too, right down to his narrow black tie, is an archetypal noir detective, not quite as hard boiled as some, but with a smart mouth when the occasion warrants.

It's all done on a largely "black and white" canvass, under a threatening coastal sky with thunder and crickets and crows as an accompaniment. It's also very still, which I thought added to the general mood. The use of vibrant colour has a heightened impact where used, and the sound track is suitably moody, sometimes menacing, sometimes Hitchcock quirky.

"Nothing ever held you like rope"
The game is played in the third person, and is a blend of keyboard and mouse. The keyboard is used to walk, run and occasionally jump Joseph around the place, and the mouse is used to do everything else. Joseph, though, generates the hotspots. You do not search a scene with your mouse, not until Joseph has discovered something worth doing or looking at, at which time an icon will appear. It is that icon which is then used to enable a detailed examination in the familiar mouse way of whatever it is that Joseph is looking at (or trying to do). You will need therefore to become adept at controlling Joseph, because searching a room or a location requires walking him around, along and over the scene. Only if he comes close enough to a "hotspot" will he (and you) notice.

Camera motion is generally ok, although it can jump a bit, and you can lose Joseph.

The mouse is also used to rummage around in your electronic organizer, a useful tool that manages your inventory, collates the clues and insights you gather along the way, and enables you to instantly move to certain places on a map once you have visited them in the normal way.

Joseph will record his unfolding investigation in the organiser as he goes, adding to what he knows about the characters and circumstances as he gathers information. He will record his deductions and findings like jotting in a notebook. The organiser will briefly appear on screen when Joseph adds something, with the new note flashing, and will then disappear again. His notes flesh out the characters and reveal their pasts and their secrets, and dispense almost entirely with the need to make your own notes. Reviewing what Joseph has learned may give you a lead on where to go next, although I only needed to do so on a few occasions.

The game is largely about gathering clues and items that will give you access to other locations, where the gathering continues. Extreme close ups for minute examination will be available in some places. The number of locked doors you encounter early on will give you an idea of the extent of your required investigation. There are some mild puzzles, but unravelling the mystery is predominantly achieved by putting together all the disparate pieces of information, gathering items of evidence, and using the right items at the right time.

"The unexpected"
Being an Arxel Tribe game, I was actually a bit disappointed in the figures. They are somewhat blocky and almost wooden looking. They also make absolutely no sound when they move, and they don't so much walk as move their legs and glide, particularly up and down stairs or embankments - a characteristic of a number of third person games I can think of.

The sets though are wonderful, and the detail is everything you would expect from this company. You can also play spot the logo if you are so inclined.

A major irritant is the fact that you have to have the first CD inserted to start the game, which apart from the introduction is entirely played from the second CD. Whilst this is a feature of many games, many others enable you to launch the game with any CD in the drive. As such, a game which requires you to insert a CD, so that you can press escape to skip the intro (even an intro as good as this one has a shelf life), so that you can be prompted to insert the other CD, so that you can launch the load menu and actually return to your saved game, is a pain which could and should be avoided.

The game is also somewhat messy at times. For example, I was able to ask questions based on an audio tape that I had not listened to and a room I had not yet visited and on several occasions the distinct icons indicated something other than what they were supposed to. Once an object I was examining inexplicably disappeared completely, and one character spoke to me by switching between voice and subtitles (and it wasn't the mute character). Joseph also got stuck inadvertently in one location (he walked in but wouldn't walk out), and there were times when he would travel by map to a new location but I would not go with him - I would have to bring him back with the map, and try again.

Of more concern, though, was that on one occasion a hot spot that was the essential trigger to the next chapter did not appear. After wandering around aimlessly for some time, I sought help. According to the Arxel Tribe walkthrough everything necessary had been done so Joseph was definitely at a dead end. However I had not done the tasks in the same order as described in the walkthrough, and wondered whether this caused the problem. I reverted to an earlier save and followed the walkthrough and was able to generate the hot spot.

At the time of writing Arxel Tribe had not responded to my query about this. I am aware though that others have had this problem as well, so it is clearly not just a personal glitch.

I am also aware that another dead end has been encountered by players, one that I didn't encounter when I was playing but which I have been able to subsequently recreate. It is again a sequence problem, and despite putting in an hour of effort I could not progress, so as far as I can tell your stuckness is permanent. To make these dead ends worse, taking into account the way the plot unfolds and the nature of the specific sequences, the dead ends are likely to be encountered - if indeed they are common to all copies - by many players.

"Beyond anything seen or imagined"
That said, I still got plenty of enjoyment out of Hitchcock: The Final Cut, but I daresay that if I was not an habitual saver, and had been forced to replay a huge slab to get past my dead end, then my enjoyment level would have been significantly decreased. And if I had encountered both dead ends, I may never have finished.

If you stick at it, and if your skills as a deductive investigator are up to scratch, the complex and convoluted plot will unfold, twisting and turning as a good mystery should. There is a hint of madness just below the surface, but whose is it? Towards the end, the psycho drama gets ratcheted up a few degrees - softened though by an apple crumble. The denoument happens pretty much without you - it's essentially a long cut scene - and you don't get to guess who dunnit, but you do get (not surprisingly) a familiar ending. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2001. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 95/98/ME
Pentium 333 MHz
64 MB RAM (128 recommended)
24x CD ROM
8MB 16 bit video card
16 bit sound card
300 MB disc space
DirectX 7